Cullen relieved to put 'disappointing year' behind him
Leo Cullen did his best to keep his emotions in check but deep down, he must have been extremely proud that Leinster booked their Champions Cup quarter-final place with one round still to play.
Friday night's clash with Montpellier was supposed to tell a lot about where Leinster stood in the grand scheme of things and despite the fact that they played with an extra man for more than half of the game, it was difficult not to have been impressed by the confidence and swagger the home side displayed.
Castres' race is run and when Leinster travel to France on Friday night, they will be confident of ensuring that their last-eight tie is on home soil.
It is a far cry from last year and although the players have admitted that they have been fuelled by their European failure, it is quickly becoming a distant memory.
"It was such a disappointing year, last year, in so many different forms," Cullen conceded.
"One of the pleasing things was there were a lot of young guys who came through, particularly during the World Cup period, got a lot of experience.
"I think back to the round five game here where a number of guys made their European debuts. Some of those guys went on to get capped by Ireland in November.
"It is great to be in the quarter-finals. There's still a hell of a lot of work to be done. It is a very clear plan for us in the short-term, trying to go to Castres, get a win which gets us a home quarter-final. It is important to be at home.
"The players have talked a lot about making sure that they produce special moments when they play, particularly at home because it is important that we have that tight relationship between the players and supporters.
"I think a lot of people were writing off the provinces and the Pro12 teams. There was a lot of doom and gloom about it.
"I was always more optimistic because I could see there are a lot of good young players coming through. We need to make sure we get a lot of things right.
"Putting in big performances, getting people to turn up to the games, they go hand-in-hand.
"We want people to support the team. We need it. You come up against other teams that have different resources, coming from different avenues, I guess.
"That poses challenges. We need to make sure that Leinster is an attractive place for young guys to come and play, do well and then go on and represent Ireland. That is an important thing."
Cullen will soon have to deal with the usual sizeable player drain again as the Six Nations kicks into gear.
For all of their shortcomings last season, Leinster will feel as if they are now in a much better place to cope during that international window as the Pro12 continues.
The Leinster coach has already made it clear he doesn't feel that World Rugby's new zero-tolerance policy on high tackles has changed that much but he wasn't totally convinced Frans Steyn would have been shown a red card for his hit on Johnny Sexton, had it taken place last month.
"I thought he might have been gone because it was high and it was late as well," he said.
"You add the two together, plus it was off a line-break. My gut instinct was 'this guy could get a red card'.
"If you asked me a month ago, would I say the same thing? I don't remember that far back. It's a tough one. It is a tough one. It has such a big impact on the game.
"That is the main worry."
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