Leo Cullen to be patient with returning Ireland contingent
Coach eager to avoid prolonged World Cup hangover that marred 2015 campaign
Leo Cullen: “Everyone assumes that we [Leinster] won’t be as bad as we were four years ago. What’s to say otherwise?” Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Leo Cullen’s experiences as first a player and then a coach will help inform how he deals with the returning Leinster contingent from the Ireland squad that suffered the disappointment of losing their World Cup quarter-final to New Zealand last weekend.
Leinster’s head coach wasn’t a member of the match-day 23 when Ireland lost a quarter-final to Wales at the 2011 World Cup while four years later he was in his first season as head coach when the province suffered a World Cup hangover – they lost five of their Six European Champions Cup pool matches – following Ireland’s last eight defeat to Argentina.
He explained: “Everyone is in a different mindset, some guys start, some on the bench, some not involved. I was not in the 23 when we lost to Wales (2011). Everyone thought we’d beat them, but we underperformed on the day; you’re stuck in New Zealand, bloody miles away, and you’re keen to just get back and play rugby.”
In terms of 2015 he continued: “Everyone assumes that we [Leinster] won’t be as bad as we were four years ago. What’s to say otherwise? We had the players back roughly at the same time, we were going well in the Pro14 but we lost at home to Wasps, away to Bath and then pretty quickly after that we had Toulon back to back; both of those games we lost as well.
“We just need to be careful that we ensure that we are doing everything within our control to get guys back on track with us. It’s very much a case by case basis from what guys have experienced when they are out there [Japan] .
“We have had a reasonable experience in reintroducing the three lads, Dave [Kearney], Dev [Toner] and Ross Byrne. Jack [Conan] is back but he is injured. Sean Cronin has an injury, I’m not sure how bad he is. We will get that assessed.
“I will give the [returning Ireland] guys a bit of time off. It’s been a big physical and mental commitment to that [World Cup]. It is still early in the season, they have to come back into the group, reintegrate and go well. They are leaving one competitive environment and coming back into another. For us, we just want to try and integrate them into training and see how they actually cope.”
Cullen pointed to the fact that for Leinster’s Irish contingent the last time they were with the playing group in the province was at the end of last season when they lost the Champions Cup final to Saracens before beating the Glasgow Warriors in the Pro14 decider.
“For guys, they need to get in the head space when they come back in, ‘okay right, what’s been going on since Glasgow essentially’.
“There’s also that Europe piece that’s still there, because again we had to turn the page very quickly after that disappointment into another semi-final, which was against Munster in the RDS. We need to remember where we were back then and fill in the bits in between. ‘You guys have been over there dealing with the World Cup; this is what we’ve been doing [at Leinster]’.
“We need to make sure that becomes the line again. They’ve missed a lot. Moving forward we need to go ‘okay, let’s put you into a training environment that we actually think is going to test you, to get you up to speed’.”