Leo Cullen believes All Blacks' vulnerability means World Cup is wide open
Leinster coach Leo Cullen believes this year's World Cup is wide open due to the vulnerabilities of New Zealand.
The former second-row believes Ireland are among the teams who can go to the Land of the Rising Sun with confidence. With just two weeks between the final and Leinster's opening Champions Cup game, Cullen will have to deal with the fallout whatever happens.
But is he hoping he will be welcoming back a coterie of players celebrating their achievements in Japan when they do return.
"It is how teams adapt in Japan. The conditions are so different and alien. How teams adapt to the environment over there will play a big part in the ones that progress and the ones that don't," he said.
"You can see with so many teams at the moment it's on the day, who gets their preparations right, the combinations, the selection and all the little bits.
"How the tackle law is being policed, you could see it at the U-20s World Cup the amount of cards in those games and how influential those cards are in terms of the outcome of games.
Impact "Ireland lost heavily when they had a red card in the first 20 minutes of a game. You see the (Scott Barrett) red card and the impact it had on the game.
"Wales were going to go to No 1 in the world if they had won at the weekend but they got beaten by England... On the day Australia beat New Zealand comfortably. It will be interesting to see how the Irish guys go when they play against England. There are lots of teams that can win the World Cup, genuinely win it, whereas I don't think that was the case in the past."
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Cullen confirmed that Ireland star Dan Leavy is making progress on the road to recovery, but didn't put a firm time-line on his return from knee surgery last spring.
He did draw parallels with Wales flanker Aaron Shingler who missed 15 months with a similar issue.
Leinster kick off their long road into pre-season with a friendly against Coventry on Saturday and welcome Barry Daly and Adam Byrne back to the fold, but they'll be without James Lowe and Scott Penny for most of their lead-in after the pair underwent shoulder reconstruction surgery. Cullen hopes to have them back for the season kick-off in September, while Jamison Gibson-Park is making progress with his hamstring.
One player he is unlikely to see in the near-term is Ross Byrne whose World Cup window has opened thanks to Joey Carbery's injury.
"Ross was great for us all last year," Cullen said. "He looked good when he played for Ireland last November. Hopefully, he gets a crack at it."