Leo Cullen plays down Leinster and Ireland clash of styles
Sean Cronin and Fergus McFadden in a race against time for Champions Cup opener
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen believes all four provinces have an influence on the Irish squad, not just Leinster. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Leo Cullen has countered suggestions by former Leinster captains Brian O’Driscoll and Isa Nacewa that the style of Leinster coaching has unduly influenced the way Ireland played rugby. Nacewa has been critical of Ireland for moving away from Leinster’s more open way of playing to a conservative approach.
“It was eye-opening how far off the pace they were in that first Six Nations game against England when they downright got battered in Dublin,” said Nacewa. “In the 2017/18 season once Leinster started playing an attacking brand of rugby and the majority of the Ireland squad was Leinster-based they let a little bit of that Leinster flair infiltrate the Ireland camp.”
O’Driscoll suggested that the unstructured play of Leinster, encouraged by former England coach Stuart Lancaster after he arrived in 2016, may not have comfortably dovetailed with the more conservative way Joe Schmidt wanted his Irish team to play.
“You hear under Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, everything is about unstructured chaos and the launch plays are used to get into that unstructured play and that’s the vast majority of the game. Whereas Joe has been very much a set-piece orientated guy,” observed O’Driscoll.
But Cullen maintains that Leinster’s influence and that of the Leinster coaches is overstated and just one influence among many. For a more credible analysis the flux of coaches in the other provinces should be taken into consideration.
“There are comparisons being made when coaches come in. You could easily say at the World Cup, there were 14 Leinster players out there originally. Jack left and Jordi came in,” said Cullen. “There are twelve Munster players. Why does nobody pick up the change of coaches in Munster? Did that have an affect?”
For Ireland’s final match against New Zealand, Leinster players made up just over half the starting team. Eight started the game with four from Munster and three from Ulster. The bench was an even split of four players from Munster and Leinster.
“Or the change of coaches at Connacht,” added Cullen. “They’ve gone from Pat (Lam) to Kieran (Crowley) to Andy (Friend). Ulster have gone from Les (Kiss) to Jono (Gibbes) to Dan (McFarland). It’s a bit of a narrow focus would be my overall observation.
“Coaches come and go all the time. That’s my overall view of that.”
Cullen also awaits on the availability of hooker Sean Cronin and winger Fergus McFadden for the first round of their European Champions Cup campaign in less than three weeks time. Leinster face Italian side Benetton at home on November 16th with both players in a race against time.
Neither will be available for the new few weeks. Cronin had a scan on a neck injury while McFadden hurt his elbow in training. Jack Conan (foot), Barry Daly (knee) and Dan Leavy also remain on the injury list. Leinster are more encouraged by the return to training of Ed Byrne and outhalf Ciaran Frawley.