Cullen ready to juggle playing resources for South African trip

Leinster coach bearing in mind upcoming Champions Cup test against Leicester

Leo Cullen is likely to juggle Leinster's considerable playing resources for their two-game trek to South Africa in the knowledge that when they return they will face Leicester in their Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final at Welford Road a week later.

A squad of around 32 players will be named this morning in advance of their game against the Sharks in Durban next Saturday with the probability that there will be further rotation for their match against the Stormers a week later.

Most of those involved in the two-legged tie with Connacht are likely to be rested with one eye on the Tigers, so to speak, as Cullen renews acquaintances with the club where he spent two seasons from 2005 to 2007.

The Premiership leaders have been revitalised in the last seasons under Steve Borthwick after successive 11th placed finishes domestically, and have won 22 of 25 matches played this season.


“They’ve got a strong lineout maul obviously with the identity of their coach, Steve Borthwick, who has been strongly tipped to succeed Eddie [Jones].

“That’s probably a reflection of the job he has done there in a reasonably short period of time. He definitely seems to be the coach of the moment, lots of people even calling for him to join before the World Cup, so we’ll see how that plays out for him.

“I’ve such fond memories of my time there and a lot of respect for the people who are there. A grounded bunch, I think it’s fair to say. I know they’ve had a sticky patch over the last number of years but in terms of what they have delivered this year, they have a fair bit of power.

"Even from watching the couple of games they had against Connacht where they mixed and matched their teams over those two games. The power in some of the backs, you think of the likes of Nadolo who is there, very experienced halfbacks in Ben Youngs and George Ford. "

Ideally, beyond these next three games and their rearranged URC tie with Munster at the Aviva Stadium, Leinster will want to have five more knock-out matches by reaching the finals of both competitions, which will continue to test their resources.

“It’s tough for a team – recovery, bit of luck, how injuries come through. It’s dust yourself off and get ready for the next one. We have a bit of time to plan for that quarter-final.”

With the timely returns of Andrew Porter and Ronan Kelleher for their second -leg win over Connacht, Leinster aren't far from full strength and encouragingly James Ryan was running as water boy last Friday.

“He has trained the last couple of weeks so it’s another positive step,” said Cullen.

A Connacht squad of 28 players and support staff flew from Dublin to Johannesburg prior to next Saturday's game with the Lions, after which they head to Durban in preparation for their game against the Sharks on Saturday April 30th.

Definitely tougher

With just three URC games remaining in their season, all bar loose-head Matthew Burke and the Brive-bound duo of Abrahama Papali'I and Conor Oliver of the '23' on duty last Friday were included, and have been supplemented by Tom Daly, Alex Wootton, Shayne Bolton, Greg McGrath, Dylan Tierney-Martin, Niall Murray, Jordan Duggan and Paul Boyle

"It's been tough over the last couple of weeks," admitted Jack Carty in the wake of their 82-41 aggregate defeat by Leinster.

“You take the losses a bit more personally when you’re leading the lads. Yeah, definitely, as captain you kinda have to wear it. It’s definitely tougher.”

Andy Friend has made eight new signings for next season and said: "We are hopefully waiting on one more. But it is enough, I am actually really happy with our squad. That was our message to our boys.

“We have got the talent. We just have to make sure we nurture the talent individually. That’s on us as coaches but also as players. It’s on them to nurture their own talent and make sure they are delivering and getting the best out of themselves.

“At the end of the day, that does rest with me. If it’s not right then I need to take a look at what I’m doing. So that’s my big focus.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times