Leo Cullen: Top team should host URC final - not South Africa

Leo Cullen has left most of his front-line internationals at home for this week's trip to South Africa

David Kelly

Leinster coach Leo Cullen arrived in South Africa yesterday confident that a largely second-string squad can guarantee Dublin dates for their URC knock-out games – and he is insistent that his side should be allowed the chance to finish the job at home too.

With organisers pondering the possibility of rewarding the South African influence for their belated role in adding a pep to the step of an often stuttering competition, Cullen is adamant that form should be rewarded when it comes to deciding the June 18 finale.

“In the short term in my opinion it would be the team that finishes top gets the advantage similar to the way it was in Super Rugby,” argued Cullen from his Durban base ahead of fixtures against the Stormers and the Sharks.

“Because it’s going to be hard. Say you set a final in Cardiff and you have the Sharks and Stormers playing in the final.

“For the South African public in that instance, I think it’s fairer that they get to support their two teams if they are the ones to make the final.

“That would be my view based on the higher seeding of those two teams. So until you have got the tournament really established from a supporter points of view the distance is a problem, the travel on a week’s notice.

“It’s a tricky one. Probably for the final piece you should have to earn the right. That would be my opinion.”

With a ten-point lead and a final home game against Munster to complete their regular season, Cullen is confident that rewarding the squad who did some heavy lifting during the Six Nations can pay off.

“We played seven games during the nine weeks in the Six Nations when our internationals played five games so the majority of this group are the ones that carried the load,” said Cullen.

“The credit is in many respects to the group that are here, because they've got us to the situation of where we are sitting in the table.

"So it's great reward for them and they're all keen to get going now. They are all mad keen to put their hand up again for selection.”

James Ryan was apparently keen to be involved after the latest in a series of head injuries which have blighted his career but although the second-row was deemed fit to travel, he was left at home to continue his recuperation, despite concern in some quarters that he should not play again this season.

Andrew Porter and Rónan Kelleher have made the trek for games against the Sharks at Durban’s Hollywoodbets Kings Park on Saturday (5.15pm Irish time) before a clash with the Stormers at the Green Point Stadium in Cape Town a week later.

"It won't be easy,” adds Cullen, “because there is a lot of quality and World Cup winners in this team that we're going to be playing against, players that played against the Lions and won that series as well.

"So it's an incredible challenge really, when you think about it. And there’s a lot of moving parts to our squad.

“Hopefully it will be a great investment. It's not just the short term, it's also the future of a lot of our young guys as well.”