Wednesday 13 December 2017

Cullen wary of Blues' tendency to start new seasons slowly

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during squad training at UCD in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen during squad training at UCD in Dublin. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leo Cullen has called on his players to hit the ground running in their Guinness PRO14 opener against the Dragons tomorrow.

The Leinster head coach is mindful of the fact that the Blues tend to be slow out of the traps and against a Dragons outfit, who have been rejuvenated since Bernard Jackman took over, Cullen has warned that Rodney Parade will not be an easy place to get off to a winning start in.

Leinster scraped past Treviso in their opener last season but in recent campaigns before that came unstuck against Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Tricky

"It's always a bit tricky for us at the start of the year because there's a good chunk of our squad who haven't played a pre-season game or played a game," Cullen conceded.

"So that's always a bit of a concern for Leinster. Guys are on tour and they come back a bit little bit later. We're very conscious of that.

"If you look back through the record books, Leinster are traditionally slow starters and slow out of the blocks.

"The Dragons in comparison have pretty much all of their squad together and they've played games. You can look at their scores and say, 'Oh they've lost their pre-season games', but they've played games whereas some of our guys won't have not played games.

"That's always a difficult challenge for us here. There were a lot of good things from the pre-season but it doesn't actually matter when you look back later in the season. There are no points up for grabs.

"It was good that we used 15 Academy players during the course of the three games. I think that's great for the development of them and the long-term future of the club.

"It's fantastic but I would still very much be on guard because some guys are obviously undercooked because they haven't played yet."

Leinster have a lengthy injury list to contend with but their strength in depth will be expected to allow them to cope.

"You're balancing it the whole time, making sure we have enough guys to play a proper competitive game against the Dragons," Cullen continued.

"Some of those guys are playing their fourth game of the season whereas some of ours are playing their first.

"Pre-season where guys come back at different times is a challenge. If you think (we had) five guys away with the Lions and 13 away with Ireland.

"So in the first block of pre-season, you are minus 18 players. That's before you take into consideration any injuries to get a meaningful session. A meaningful session, I'm talking about 15 against 15 where you can run some proper game scenarios.

"Now the guys are starting to come back. Some of them played at the weekend which is good. They were in (Ireland) camp last Monday and Tuesday and came back in to catch up on Wednesday and then had a light run-out on Thursday to play on the Friday."

Leinster are particularly short of midfield options with Robbie Henshaw (pectoral), Garry Ringrose (shoulder), Noel Reid (hand) and Tom Daly (ACL) all out injured and Cullen admitted that he would have be "creative" in how he went about his selection.

Unfortunate

The 39-year-old also revealed the nature of Daly's unfortunate injury that will see him spend a lengthy period on the sidelines.

"We have to be a little bit creative, for sure," Cullen added.

"Garry and Robbie have been well-documented. Tom did his cruciate over in Perpignan which was such an innocuous incident.

"Even his reaction to it. He finished the game and the following week I asked him how he was.

"He said it was settling down and he should be okay for Gloucester at the weekend.

"Then, half an hour later, the physio came in and said, 'He's done his cruciate'. Noel Reid had that crack in his hand. So yeah, it's getting a little tight."

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