Leo Cullen as 'excited as ever' despite Leinster upheaval

With Stuart Lancaster departing and Andrew Goodman and Sean O’Brien only in the door, it only adds to the reliance the club has on Cullen as the lynchpin in all this
Leo Cullen as 'excited as ever' despite Leinster upheaval

WATCHFUL EYE: Leinster head coach Leo Cullen before the United Rugby Championship match between Ulster and Leinster at Kingspan Stadium in Belfast. Pic: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leinster’s CEO, senior coach and on-field talisman are all poised to exit the building in the coming year, the coaching staff has already experienced a major shake-up, and the club is still absorbing the failure to win a trophy for the first time in five seasons.

Fair to say then that these are interesting times in the capital.

Leinster have responded as you would expect, with three wins from three games to open their URC campaign, and head coach Leo Cullen rejected the use of the word ‘upheaval’ when asked about the various comings and goings after their win away to Ulster on Friday.

“There are great people here,” he said. “Andrew Goodman has arrived from Crusaders after five unbelievably successful years there. He is a great addition. Sean O’Brien is a young coach coming in, Robyn McBride has huge experience, and that all adds different dimensions to the group.

“We have fresh blood there that will only get better. That is why we asked them to join us, because we think they are unbelievable potential for the future as well as the here and now. We have a new (coaching) group this season. So in terms of upheaval, a word I strongly disagree with, the thing with rugby is nothing stands still. Ever.

“People get older, players, coaches. Players retire, new players come through the system. Like, this close season, Felipe (Contepomi) left, Denis (Leamy) re-joined Munster. So you have two coaches leaving and two coming in, so you are trying to build again. We have a new CEO, Shane (Nolan). He is going to add a fresh energy as well, and a new viewpoint.” 

Friday night’s win at the Kingspan Stadium wasn’t perfect. Leinster were 17 points to the good shortly after half-time but didn’t score again and held out in the face of some brutal weather conditions and surging Ulster storm in the last half-hour.

It still goes down as a win. Another one. Both teams brought unbeaten records into the equation from the opening two rounds but Leinster adapted the better to the wind and driving rain against a side that did the double over them last term.

Johnny Sexton, due to retire next year, James Ryan and Jack Conan all made their first appearances of the season, new signing Charlie Ngatai made a vital play in preventing an Aaron Sexton try in the second-half while another, Jason Jenkins, was immense.

The province has established the perfect platform from which to, yet again, push deep into the season on two fronts but the question as to what happens beyond the 2022/23 season remains a live one given the wider happenings.

Stuart Lancaster’s switch to Racing 92 next summer will leave a huge void in the coaching ranks, Goodman and O’Brien are only in the door, and all that only adds to the reliance the club has on Cullen as the lynchpin in all this.

The former captain is operating on a rolling one-year contract and, while he wouldn’t be one to signpost his future intentions or those of his employers, he made it clear that he was as committed to the cause as ever.

“At the end of last season it was so deflating,” he explained, “but I am as excited as I have ever been being in this role because of the here and the now and the great people we have. It is not by accident we have got to this point. I am hugely excited.”

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