After mission impossible, Leo Cullen in search of glory with Leinster

Leo Cullen admits he took on a mission impossible when he became Leinster boss two seasons ago.

The head coach says he wouldn’t have it any other way ahead of his third season in charge, with the province looking to end three years without a trophy.

Leinster slipped up at the semi-final stage in Europe and the PRO12 last season.

Cullen, along with senior coach Stuart Lancaster who joined last season, will be under pressure to deliver silverware this year, but he says that pressure is nothing new.

“If you look at it I think the reason I got the job was nobody else wanted to take the challenge on,” he said.

“We were missing a lot of players from the World Cup, it turned out to be 19, and that’s a difficult challenge — what coach wants that?”

Leinster were without their Irish contingent for the early part of that season, as well as Springbok Zane Kirchner and Wallaby Kane Douglas, who left soon after. The province were booted out of Europe early.

“We had Wasps first up and they were missing four or five lads, they ran away from us, then Bath the next week, then we were into Toulon and before you know it you’re out of Europe,” recalls Cullen.

“We gave European debuts to four or five players in the fifth round which has turned out to be a very important game.”

Things improved last season as more talented youngsters came through, but Cullen insists he feels no more or less pressure than before.

“There’s different pressures; you just look at Chelsea, they won the Premier League last season and Antonio Conte was probably under no pressure when he was coming in after the season they’d had — and now he’s probably under huge pressure because they overachieved.

“That’s the thing — does the pressure come off because he won the league? No, it probably intensifies.

“It’s the same pressure as always with Leinster now — that’s the pressure we’d always put ourselves under as players. But that’s welcome, because if we didn’t have that we could be languishing down the table.

“There’s a desire for the team to push on and win something. We weren’t far away last season. Sometimes when you have a really disappointing day like we did against Clermont in Europe it’s very hard to get back up for the PRO12 semi-final, and who knows if we’d have done better on that day if we’d won in France?”

Cullen will welcome back Rob and David Kearney for Friday’s friendly with Gloucester at St Mary’s RFC, with the Ireland full back making his first appearance since the Six Nations defeat to Wales.

The head coach faces a longer wait to welcome back Garry Ringrose and Robbie Henshaw, with both expected to return in October or November, while new signing James Lowe is expected to move from New Zealand around the same time.

Jamie Heaslip, Joey Carbery, and Sean Cronin have returned to training.


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