Monday 26 February 2018

Stand-in skipper Cullen out to seal spot on plane

Colin O'Hanlon

Leo Cullen will become Ireland's 100th captain at Murrayfield on Saturday when he leads the team out for the first time against Scotland.

Wearing the skipper's armband means that Cullen (33) will be completing a full set, as he has already captained his country in every age category from the U-19s up.

Despite making his international debut against New Zealand in Auckland back in 2002, the Leinster lock has endured a stop-start Ireland career, but the captaincy will go some way to making up for the years of disappointment.

"To be asked by Declan (Kidney) is a real privilege for me. I think sometimes you appreciate it more when it comes later in your career," explained the veteran powerhouse.

"I've been knocking around for quite a while now at this stage and I've had a lot of ups and downs, particularly in the international sphere.

"It's something I really appreciate, playing for Ireland, because there's been plenty of years where I sat back and watched the team from afar. It's kind of a strange feeling. To get the opportunity to lead the team out is a special day for me."

With only five games to impress before Kidney announces his final 30-man squad, Cullen remains positive that he can make his mark and secure a place on the plane to New Zealand next month despite the high competition for places

"Obviously, every time you play it's an opportunity. You know everyone who is in the position of playing this week wants to put their best foot forward. It's a very competitive environment at the moment and places are tight. We're only going to have a couple of opportunities.

"Everyone's very excited with the prospect of playing -- it's an international game and they don't come around that often. I'm really looking forward to trying to play as much rugby as I can and try and push my case as much as I possibly can as well."

Kidney was the man who first gave Cullen the taste of international captaincy all those years ago at U-19 level, and says that the two-time Heineken Cup-winning captain has always been a leader.

"Once Leo was in the team he was the natural man to captain it. He was knocking on the door at the last Six Nations," said Kidney.

"I know Leo well and we're fortunate captaincy sits easily on his shoulders. When there's so much at stake for the players you don't want to be burdening them with it, but I was delighted to be able to hand it to him."

Irish Independent

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