Leo Cullen admits to having a certain ‘nervous excitement’ every day he goes into work, with one week to go to Leinster’s PRO12 opener.
The former second row is in his first full season in the position, after a difficult debut last season, when he was parachuted into the job far ahead of his expectations.
He had to contend with most of his first team squad being away on international duty for the first two months of the campaign, with the Rugby World Cup taking place, and then suffered a disastrous early departure from Europe – when they failed to get out of the group stages in the Champions Cup.
Things are different this season, with his front line players all available to him from the outset, bar those with long-term injuries, and Cullen is looking ahead to next Friday’s PRO12 opener against Treviso with more enthusiasm.
“I probably have a better understanding of what’s involved now, though I’m not sure if that gives you more confidence,” he said, with a half-smile.
“I have that level of being nervously excited every day about doing the job, so it does give me that sense of ‘This is a big deal’.
“I just want the team to do well and do whatever’s best by the group. I learned a hell of a lot last year; you couldn’t but learn in the season it was.
“So it’s just about having a really clear plan for players now so that when they go out to perform, their head’s not overly cluttered.
“It’s also an understanding of the challenges over the course of a season, players come in and out.
“We’ve got players away at the Irish camp at the moment, they’ll come back into us and some will potentially play this weekend against Bath on Friday, some will hopefully play the following week.
“It’s just trying to put a real clear plan of when those guys integrate back into us. The early rounds of the PRO12 is about trying to build momentum and make sure we’re in a good spot going into those two European games in October, then there’s a break for November.
“We’ll be left with some younger players at that stage, some older ones as well. It’s just trying to get that balance right over the course of a season.”
Leinster may have flopped in Europe last season, but they still got to the PRO12 Grand Final in Edinburgh, where they went down to Connacht.
Cullen has reviewed the game since that day in May, and while he praised Connacht’s efforts, he felt his side underperformed.
With such competition in the tournament, Cullen says, you can’t afford an off-day and expect to go unpunished.
“Definitely at the top of the league it’s getting very congested,” he said.
“Because of the nature of it, it’s semi-finals and a final, so you think: ‘How many teams can get in the top four? You could probably say eight or nine.
“Then it’s just about two games. There’s a lot on the day. It comes down to on the day. It’s managing injuries; there’s the occasions, some key decisions at times and how players manage the score.
“I’d say even eight or nine teams can win the PRO12.”
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