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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 6 December, 2019
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'It's about dusting ourselves off, showing what we're about': Cullen confident of Leinster improvement

Leinster’s head coach looked beyond the 33 – 6 scoreline to find numbers that show his team is on the right track.

THE IMMEDIATE REACTION following the home humbling to Wasps was that Leinster could not have been much worse.

Today, after a full review and breakdown of the performance, Leinster head coach Leo Cullen would clearly like to revise that perception to something more like: Things could not have gone much worse.

Leo Cullen and Devin Toner Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

There was an oddly tense atmosphere in the broadcast segment of the eastern province’s press conference today with television crews struggling to put questions to Cullen. Perhaps part of that hesitation was down to the desperate situation Leinster now find themselves in. Positive TV-friendly spin is hard to come by when you’ve just lost heavily at home and are facing into two of the toughest away trips European has to offer.

“We know there were a lot of areas where we let ourselves down against Wasps,” Cullen says after a week trying to build his squad up to a point where they can win away to a star-studded Bath outfit.

So it’s about rectifying those and moving forward to a place where we put in a better performance and give a better account of ourselves.”

The head coach may be in his rookie year, but does have a deep reservoir of European experience under his belt as a player. More than enough to accept that the chasm of a 33 – 6 scoreline is reality, and reality is rarely fair.

There were other stand-out stats below the most important one that caught Cullen’s eye and helped him convince his squad that victory is not beyond them, as long as they can keep a lid on that error count.

“I don’t really think (the scoreboard) paints a true reflection on what actually happened in the game. Unfortunately, there’s no getting away from 33 -6, because that’s the reality.

Johnny Sexton Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We had 63% possession. Wasps had zero breakdowns in our 22 during the game, yet managed to come away with 33 points.

“We gave away a couple of soft penalties that allowed them to keep the scoreboard ticking over without building pressure on us.

“The flip-side of that, we get into their 22 a couple of times and we lose our shape on a couple of occasions and there’s a couple of things in the 22 the ref doesn’t pick up on…”

Cullen bullet points the instances where he felt hard done by referee Mathieu Raynal including a knock-on from Carlo Festuccia and a tackle without the arms.

Knock-on effect

“It was just that we gave away too many cheap scores. As a result, we chased the game and the fact that the group hasn’t been together a huge amount – I’m not trying to make excuses, because we should still be better, but – the reality is we just lost our way and guys started making individual errors.

“Then those errors were just having the knock-on effect of making more errors.”

Going to the Rec was never going to be an easy task. But events seem to be conspiring against Leinster. The postponement of their clash with Toulon means Mike Ford’s men will run out on their home turf fresh and fit while Leinster are left to hope that they can draft four senior players back into the mix to cope with the likely absence of Sean O’Brien, Mike McCarthy and Richardt Strauss.

“I find every week tough, because there’s never enough time to do what you want to do,” says Cullen with a hint of a smile as a question comes through the hesitant press pack (which included The42).

“It was challenging. I was under no illusions going in to this job that there were going to be some tough days.”

He adds the bottom line: ”We have to go about making things better this week.

“Guys have applied themselves really well, they’ve been very honest in their own assessments of how they went in the game.

“It’s about us dusting ourselves off, turning around with limited training opportunities, but it’s about coming out and showing what the group is about now.”

Games like this one, even so early in the campaign, define seasons.

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Sean Farrell

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