Tuesday 12 December 2017

Cullen targets World prize

Sean O'Brien, left, Leo Cullen and
Eoin Reddan, right, at the launch
of Leinster’s new home and away
jerseys for the upcoming season
in Dublin yesterday
Sean O'Brien, left, Leo Cullen and Eoin Reddan, right, at the launch of Leinster’s new home and away jerseys for the upcoming season in Dublin yesterday
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

LEO CULLEN has plenty of unfinished business to address in the coming weeks as he looks to finally book a World Cup berth.

The Ireland second-row has never played in rugby's showpiece having been overlooked in 2003 and '07 and, at 33, rectifing that record is top of his to-do list.

Yesterday the Leinster skipper was modelling the province's shiny new shirt, but it was an Ireland No 4 slot that was on his mind in Dublin's shiny new convention centre.

Cullen has accomplished much since leaving Blackrock College in 1996, and this summer he reached a personal milestone by marrying Dairine Kennedy in June. His medal cabinet includes Heineken Cup, Celtic League and English Premiership gongs, but Eddie O'Sullivan twice scotched his World Cup dreams.

Cullen finished last season as Ireland's third-choice second-row, frustrated with his lack of game time.

And he admitted yesterday that the national team were far from happy with the Six Nations campaign and feel they have much to prove in the build-up to the New Zealand tournament.

"I would have liked to be on the field a little bit more and it was a bit of a mixed bag of a campaign," he said. "All in all, I think there is a sense of frustration within the Irish team and hopefully we will see that in these autumn internationals."

Honeymoon over, Cullen returned to pre-season last week at Carton House with memories of 2003 fresh in his mind.

Cullen expected to miss out on France in 2007 after his spell at Leicester, but when the squad left for Australia without him eight years ago it came as a shock.

Having starred in the historic Lansdowne Road win over the Wallabies the previous November, he was involved in four of Ireland's Six Nations games that year, toured the pacific islands and featured against Italy in the warm-up.

Cullen was fully expecting to board the plane, but the call came from O'Sullivan telling him that he had missed out and it appears the wound hasn't quite healed.

"I was pretty disappointed four years ago, and particularly eight years ago. I probably didn't expect to go four years ago," he said. "In my career it's probably one of the toughest things I have had to deal with. It makes you stronger if you get over it, I guess.

"It came as a bit of a shock getting the phone call the morning the squad was announced. It wasn't particularly enjoyable, so it would be great to get out there and even better to play a role.

"It would be great if I got that opportunity this year. There is still a bit of a slog to get to that point.

"Players maybe rate themselves higher than people perceive them to be, but it just goes with the territory."

Cullen says this year's World Cup was one of the reasons he chose to return home from Leicester Tigers in 2007 as he tried to make up for lost time.

"Going back a few years ago, when you are planning out your contractual situation, this was certainly a pretty big target of mine," he said.

"I was kind of out of the picture (in 2007) when it came to preparations and I held on until the final culling but I kind of knew that it was coming. This time that situation is a little bit different.

"I am certainly enjoying rugby at the moment and I am just trying to live each day like it is the last.

"I am enjoying being with Leinster and I enjoyed being involved with the Six Nations.

"I'm really excited by the prospect. It's hard to say because there are a lot of games to get through and you don't want to be tempting fate."

Irish Independent

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