Leo Cullen always strikes you as a man who’d forget to buy a lottery ticket on the week his numbers came up, then reply that he’d at least saved two euro in the process.
As head coach at a professional rugby team, that’s perhaps what it takes, a constant focus on the positive, an unending ability to bounce back from negativity. So, his take on Joe Schmidt’s Ireland, after three rounds of a capricious Six Nations, are naturally of interest.
“Deflating” is how he summed up Ireland’s opening Six Nations defeat to England, but the Leinster coach has already discovered positives; the opportunity to prove a point against France on Sunday, the game time given to fringe players, and the possibility — if even a remote one — of a championship title.
“If you look where Ireland sit at the moment, there’s a lot of noise and commentary about the performance part of the three games, so far, but I look at it that Ireland are playing at home against France and there’s an opportunity there,” Cullen said.“The last time they played [at home] was against England, and that’s where a lot of the commentary is stemming from, that’s my impression.
“Now, there’s an unbelievable chance to go out against France and put down a statement, about the way they want to play – that’s what they’re in control of. If they go out and put in a big performance and get as much from the game as possible, depending on how other games go, you’re still alive in the championship, that’s what you can focus on.”
Schmidt admits the England defeat rocked his men, the manner of the loss a shock to the system after a year of unparalleled results.
However, Cullen, a card-carrying member of the ‘a team is never as good or bad as people say’ school of coaching, refuses to be so negative about the current situation.
“The game against England was so finely balanced, and it can have such a deflating effect losing the first game of the championship. When you lose to England, the talk is ‘Triple Crown’s gone, Grand Slam’s gone’, it’s deflating, but you’ve got to try and get yourself back up. They’re on the back of a bonus point win in Italy, and another win in Scotland; it’s not like the Irish team are on a bad run,” said Cullen.
“They’ve won two away games on the bounce in the Six Nations, which is no easy thing to do, there’s not that many away wins in the Six Nations.
“In their defence, they’ve had two wins off the back of lots of chopping and changing, They’ve tried a lot of players and I’m sure they’ve learned a huge amount so far and they’re still in with a chance. They’ve to focus on the France game, recover quickly, and go to Wales. Shut out some of the noise and focus.”
Meanwhile, tickets for Ireland’s World Cup warmup games against Italy and Wales will go on general sale next week. The ‘Summer Series’ home fixtures take place on Saturday, August 10 (Italy), and Saturday, September 7 (Wales), and range from €10 for schoolchildren, to €80 for Category 1 tickets.