Leinster Rugby Lie In Wait

It’s been something of a baptism of fire for Leo Cullen.

Thrust into the head coach role at one of the most feared and respected European sides, at the start of a season where he’d have to deal with both a World Cup and a Six Nations campaign disrupting his preparations, I’m sure he would have had many other ideal scenarios in which to take control of his beloved province.

And yet, with Leinster disposing of Matt O’Connor at the end of a season where they reached the Champions’ Cup semi-finals (and nearly defeated eventual winners Toulon in Marseilles), Cullen was prematurely placed in the role that one day many believed he would take anyway. Had he not become head coach now, it surely would have happened sometime in the future.

Therefore, is it his fault that Leinster’s start to the season has been rather meagre?

Friday night’s defeat away to the Scarlets was disappointing and then some. They were scoreless for the first three quarters of the game, and by then the game was beyond them. Eventually, they scraped the scoreline back to a respectable 25-14 defeat, but it was a game that always looked like it was an uphill battle for Leinster.

Cullen, however, cannot be blamed.

Short of 19 players who are all at the World Cup, plus a few other injury concerns such as new signing Mick Kearney who is out until the New Year, it is impractical to think that Leinster would be leading the way in the PRO12. Fans may have hoped that they’d put up more of a fight away at Edinburgh, and in Llanelli at the weekend, but that’s of little concern.

Instead they will have to bide their time until the cavalry returns. Ireland’s premature World Cup exit at the hands of Argentina means that they will see several players return to the fold as early as this weekend, when they will take on defending champions Glasgow at the RDS Arena, and their return could not be more perfectly timed.

All is not lost in Dublin. Cullen will have his long-term plan already laid out for his side and, while he’s still finding his feet this season and may not make too much headway in terms of success, Leinster will have to back him to the hilt and trust they’ve made the correct appointment.

So far, it looks like they have too — what they get in Cullen is a man whose passion for his province is eclipsed by none, and who will work relentlessly to ensure that the team return to their heyday, back when no other side in Europe could touch them. And already there are signs of that being the case.

Garry Ringrose looks like he could be the real deal in the backs, based on his flawless performances at the Junior World Cup and how well he has adapted to PRO12 rugby. They have a talented young duo pushing Mike Ross for the role at tighthead prop in Marty Moore and Tadhg Furlong. And, they have a wealth of talent in the back row that other sides could only dream of having – who else could lose their entire starting back row and replace them all with internationals?

So Leinster fans, don’t fret.

Cullen will have what he needs provided to him and on top of that, having a certain Jonathan Sexton back to help out will be a very welcome bonus. While, perhaps, some other teams have already gelled this season and are looking more impressive (both Munster and the Scarlets are on top form), coming down the stretch, Leinster have both the talent and experience to mount a serious challenge.

So other teams: beware. Leinster Rugby Lie in Wait.


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