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Cullen stands by Sexton - Leinster coach defends out-half’s captaincy style after Thomond furore



Leo Cullen is standing by his decision to appoint Johnny Sexton as Leinster captain. Photo: Sportsfile

Leo Cullen is standing by his decision to appoint Johnny Sexton as Leinster captain. Photo: Sportsfile

Leo Cullen is standing by his decision to appoint Johnny Sexton as Leinster captain. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster coach Leo Cullen has stood by his decision to appoint Johnny Sexton as captain despite the ongoing furore surrounding his style during last weekend's tempestuous Thomond Park defeat to Munster.

Leinster had two players binned and one sent off and two former Irish captains led a chorus of criticism for the manner in which they felt Sexton communicated with referee Frank Murphy.

Keith Wood claimed Sexton "lost it," while former team-mate Brian O'Driscoll highlighted the World Player of the Year's "confrontational rather than conversational" manner and "antagonistic" character as a captain.

Sexton was named club captain after Isa Nacewa retired last season following Leinster's Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 title triumphs but Cullen is adamant that his decision was the correct one, pointing instead to a collective leadership as a major factor in their implosion last weekend.

"It's his drive for the team to be successful to maximise their potential," explained Cullen ahead of tonight's interprovincial clash in the RDS against Ulster, where both sides have named severely weakened sides with an eye to the resumption of Champions Cup combat over the next fortnight.

"He is someone who is literally maximising his potential, that's why he's World Player of the Year. He had an incredible year last year, the drive, the hunger he has to be successful, that's what sets him apart from everybody else.

"At times, that's when you're right to the edge, sometimes you might tip over the edge, that's the fine line he operates in. That's what makes him the player that he is, and lots of the great players have been like that."

And Cullen was keen to emphasise that the leadership burden needs to be the responsibility of the wider playing group and not just the captain, referencing the three players - James Lowe (red), Tadhg Furlong and Cian Healy (yellow) - who all departed the fray against Munster.

"There's other people in the team we'd share the load and responsibility with. But it's definitely something we're very conscious of, always. Its always important there's someone else who can communicate with the referee and we'll prep them up.

"Like Isa, the most common example over the last few seasons, he could be at full-back or on the wing, so he's quite far from the action.

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"So we've had games like last year, the semi-final in Europe, Johnny was captain that day so we do change things, we're conscious of where people are and how we support each other.

"It's never on one person, that's not what we're about. There's the team on the field, we're all in it together.

"You can pick one person out of a performance, but it's my fault or it's the selectors' fault for putting these guys out there in the first place. We're all responsible."

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