Rueful Cullen assesses physical and mental fallout from weekend
Leinster coach backs players but bemoans little errors that cost a lot in loss to Clermont
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster and head coach Leo Cullen at the club training session in UCD on Monday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
The legacy from Leinster’s Sunday’s Champions Cup defeat to Clermont Auvergne in Lyon encompasses physical and mental anguish. Leo Cullen initially dealt with the injury issues airing from Lyon before changing tack.
Robbie Henshaw looked in a fair amount of discomfort in the immediate aftermath of the game but the Leinster’s head coach pointed out: “It was a fair old shoulder into the ribs from what I would have described as a charge into ruck, the latter said with a smile and a reference to Cian Healy’s recent citing.
“No it’s not too bad.” Seán O’Brien, who missed the Clermont match with a hamstring issue, suffered a similar tweak in the other leg.
Cullen confirmed that he wouldn’t be available for the game against the Glasgow Warriors on Friday night, adding: “His other hamstring flared up. With his history it’s important that we try and take care of him. He’s back running. It’s unlikely this week.”
There is no definitive update on a return, if any, this season, for Rob Kearney (bicep and knee) and Jamie Heaslip (back); the number eight is probably better placed. Cullen said: “You give them timeframes – six to eight weeks; sometimes that turns into 10 weeks.” The luckless Dave Kearney (ankle surgery) is gone for the remainder of the season.
The Leinster coach admitted that he had 100 things going through his mind since the game and a fair amount of introspection. “Every week, we [the coaching team] look back at ourselves all the time. What was our plan like?
“Did we get the selection right? Did we get the gameplan right? Did we get the mood of the week right? Win or lose. I think we got a lot of things right. We just didn’t manage certain situations well during the game.
“It’s hard to replicate that on the training field, the pressure, the tension, the anxiety that comes with that. There were little errors in our game. A lot of the time it is because they want it so badly they’re trying so hard, it forces the errors.
“Whereas, as the game goes, when we were behind, it was almost like ‘we’re relaxed now so we know what we have to do – we’ll chase the game’. At the start of the game, sometimes, it can be the hardest.
“You get that anxiety that builds up and players make uncharacteristic errors because they are forcing things so hard. It was that little bit of composure that we needed.”
The issue of the fine line between confidence and complacency was mooted, based on a young side and a stellar performance in the quarter-final victory over Wasps.
Cullen said: “Thinking back to the Pro12 [last season], we had a really good performance in the semi-final. Because you have that feelgood factor, you think you are just going to carry on where you left off.
“And we’ve been on a good run recently. Unfortunately, we just got a bit of a shock at the start. You are always riding that balance of complacency and confidence.
“I don’t think the players lacked confidence or ability in any way. Even at 15 points down, I was 100 per cent backing them. We created chances in the first-half when we were guilty of forcing it.
“We make that breakout from our goal-line and if Joey [Carbery] gets the ball away to Isa [Nacewa], there is a clear run to the line.
“There was another one in the first-half where we play lineout, move into the middle of the field and get them on the edge. A pass just doesn’t go to hand. If it does, we’re two-on-one with Spedding closing as the fullback.
“Looking back there’s a lot of things [wrong] in our control. The players would love another crack at it. The biggest frustration for them is that’s their chance. They’d love to go back out and play again today.
“Unfortunately you don’t get that chance, and it’s a bloody long way until you get into another European semi-final again. Hopefully it’s only a year.”
Leinster are the first team to qualify for a home Pro 12 semi-final and their fixture will take place at the RDS on Friday, May 19th (7.45pm). The game will be broadcast on Sky Sports and TG4.
The second semi-final will be hosted by either Munster or Scarlets on Saturday, May 20th (6.15pm). This game will be broadcast by Sky Sports, with other broadcasters to be confirmed depending on venue and opponent.
Munster can guarantee a home semi-final at Thomond Park if they beat Benetton Treviso in Italy on Saturday.