Leo Cullen says tough festive schedule big disadvantage

Not everything is rosy in Leinster’s garden.

Top of their Champions Cup pool and on Munster’s coattails at the summit of the Pro12 they may be, but Leo Cullen isn’t exactly chuffed with a schedule that asks his squad to front up three times over the course of 11 days through the festive period.

Leinster meet Munster in Limerick on St Stephen’s Day, preparations for which won’t be helped on either side this week by a mini-Ireland camp, before welcoming Ulster and Zebre to the RDS on New Year’s Eve and January 6 respectively.

“It’s a tough one,” said the Leinster coach. “Two games in five days is always tough, especially two games of that level, particularly when the team you’re playing second is coming off an eight day turnaround.

“So we’re a bit disadvantaged with the way those fixtures have fallen or have been arranged. But we’ll get on with it and manage it as best we can. Then we have a six-day turnaround with Zebre. So three games in 11 days.”

Some games are tougher than others.

Saturday’s was one of the easier Cullen or any of his players will ever experience. Not since Leinster put 92 points on Bourgoin at the old Lansdowne Road this time 12 years ago has the province had it so easy in the top European competition.

It’s a damning indictment on the Saints. Jim Mallinder didn’t say so.

The Northampton coach, increasingly embattled as their season disappears down the plughole, spoke of how his players “put their bodies on the line” and suggested those supporters that travelled will have enjoyed their weekend in Dublin.

Astonishing. Mallinder referenced the heavy workload some of his rested internationals had endured through November and rejected the notion that his was a virtual B team on the night while Cullen showed a predictable diplomacy in defending what was in truth an indefensible performance from the English side.

“When I was looking at the fixtures and the Autumn internationals, the fact that England game was on (a week before round three) and even Louis Picamoles was away with France… they had the East midlands derby on the same weekend that England played Australia.

“We knew that they would be stressed. You’re always wondering what way coaches will select teams. They are still a team with a strong squad. I’m sure he had faith in those games but there is a challenge when you have a lot changes.”

Or to put it another way, no challenge at all.

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