Leo Cullen: ‘a good chunk of the guys who are injured will be back’

Leinster head coach reflects on Exeter win: ‘it was just two good teams going at it’

It would have been a great pub debate, in another time of course, so instead it had to be confined to Whatsapp groups. But in the pantheon of great one-off Leinster European wins, beating the reigning champions on their own lair when recovering from all manner of pre-match and early blows, had to be in the upper tier.

What perhaps prevents it from being quite top of the list was the absence of fans and, of course, Leinster’s rather high standards in this competition. There have, after all, been four wins in finals and five in the semi-finals, not to mention that quarter-final win in Toulouse 15 years ago.

Hence, when Leo Cullen was invited to partake in the conversation, he had all of this in mind and, even more importantly, that Leinster’s ambitions begin and finish with that fifth star.

“Yeah, unfortunately, like, it’s hard to get that excited with winning quarter-finals. Yeah, it’s a good performance, and lots of good stuff in it, but it’s like a lot of these things, you perform really well in the quarters and don’t turn up in the semis, then what was the whole point of putting in a positive performance in the quarter-finals in the first place?”


Carrying on the theme, Cullen added: “You’ve got to be able to back these things up again because so many teams have peaked in an earlier round and then they’re out of the tournament in the following round. It’s like, what was the whole point of that in the first place, putting in that work?

“You can reflect back maybe at a later date. An away win in a quarter-final? What was the other one, the Harlequins game 6-5?” said Cullen with a wry grin in reference to one of the least celebrated yet most significant quarter-final wins of them all.

“Not many people gave us much of a chance the week after, if my memory serves me correctly,” said Cullen with a chuckle, meaning the semi-final against Munster in Croke Park which was, of course, three weeks later.

“It’s great yeah, but it’s a little bit irrelevant, because it’s on to the next thing, which is a semi-final.”


The start to Saturday’s game also reminded Cullen of the night in the Kingspan last month when they fell 12-3 down inside 14 minutes and won 38-19.

“But once we got into a bit of a flow we looked okay, and bar that first 10 minutes I thought the rest of the half was good. We played the game in the right areas. Defensively we looked a lot sounder after that initial piece and we created some good opportunities.

“Granted it was a good ding-dong battle for 10 or 15 minutes as well where Exeter were coming up with some big hits, our guys were carrying strong. So it was just two good teams going at it, as you’d expect and you can see how much it means to both sets of players. That’s the great thing about the tournament for me. Exeter have a strong identity. You can see the power in their collective and that’s something we want in our guys as well, for it to be visible to our supporters and to the outside world as well.

“In terms of weathering the storm, it was big, and staying composed. The second-half was more of a game management thing where you just needed to play in the right areas of the field and when we were defending we were disciplined and not giving away cheap and silly penalties.”

As in 2009, at least the semi-final will be three weeks from now, which should afford Johnny Sexton ample time to recover from another failed HIA which, coupled with the issues affecting James Ryan and Caelan Doris, is admittedly disturbing. Garry Ringrose and Will Connors could also return to the mix.

“I can’t speak specifically but generally hopefully a good chunk of the guys who are injured will be back for our next game against Munster in round one of the Rainbow Cup. It’ll be a case by case basis, but definitely we’ll have a few of them back.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times