Pro12 intermission brings a different challenge for Cullen after perfect four-game block

They’ve completed a 100% return from the last block, but things will change as they hit the business end of the season.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE’S NO QUESTIONING the fantastic rugby Leinster have been playing of late.

They’ve gathered maximum points from this block of Pro12 games. 20 points from 20 on offer over four games, scoring tries and collecting bonus points for fun.

Their current momentum is admirable. But now, they head into a three-week break before they host Cardiff on 25 March.

With such a head of steam built up, the intermission isn’t ideal, but head coach Leo Cullen declines the invitation to bemoan the schedule. After all, it allowed his side to power through the past four weeks and make 40-point hauls a regular occurrence.

“It is what it is,” he said after the Saturday night win over Scarlets. “We will reassess where we are now and put some plans in place.

“We went hard at this block knowing that a break was coming. We have been very focused on this period and try and get as much out of it as possible. To get four wins is fantastic.

It’s tight at the top of the table so you can’t really afford much of a slip up at this stage. There is a 10-week block coming up; hopefully we will have 10 games to play in.”

The signs are good. Though Scarlets left Dublin after a thrashing, they dominated the majority of the first-half. The game swung with half-time, but it also took the problem solving ability of players to dismantle the Welsh outfit.

Richardt Strauss talks with the players after the game Leinster players after Saturday's clash. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“We do a lot of work with the game managers,” Cullen says.

“Over this block of four weeks they have worked really, really well together; against that problem solving and reviewing games, working in their sub units. They have put a lot of work into this block so it is great to see the rewards they got out of it.”

All breaks are not created equal, of course. The Six Nations climax will occupy many of Cullen’s charges, others will get a chance to recharge their batteries before a crucial point in the provincial season. For Cullen, the challenge will be to reintegrate the international contingent with the in-form tyros who impressed so much in recent weeks with just one fixture before the Champions Cup quarter-final against Wasps.

“Some guys go into national camp others will have a bit of recovery time. We come back in for a week’s training with Cardiff here in three weeks time. All the teams change after that so the league takes on a different complexion.

Every team is affected slightly differently but the lineups are different towards the latter half of the season. A lot of guys have put their hands up and it’ll give us plenty of discussion points moving forward.”

Two-try scorer and Man of the Match on Saturday, Luke McGrath also knows his side are entering the business side of the season and that the pressure is ever-increasing.

“Each game is getting harder from now on, isn’t it? We just have to take it one game at a time.

“We have a bit of a break now from the Pro12. Cardiff is next, then obviously the massive game against Wasps. It’s going to get more competitive in training because everyone wants to play those big games.

“It is such a competitive squad. It is 50 plus players who are all gunning to play. Obviously there is a lot of lads in Irish camp and playing with Ireland and doing really well and that’s brilliant to see.

Luke McGrath scores a try despite Jonathan Evans Luke McGrath in action. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“But that gives massive opportunity to the younger lads. You can see younger lads putting their hand up tonight.”

Looking back on the Scarlets clash, Cullen was full of praise for Joey Carbery lining out at full back for the second week running.

With versatility to his strength he thrived in the number 15 jersey, running in two tries.

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“He’s a very comfortable footballer,” Cullen noted. “You can play him in most positions across the backline. At the start of the season he played a huge amount at 10. When he played in Clontarf last year he played at 10 but he was also in games at 15 a lot of the time.

“They used him to counterattack and he is very dangerous when he is back there. We will see how he goes through the course of the season. For the team he’s progressing all the time and he happy slotting in at 10, which he was covering today.”

Noel Reid and Adam Byrne both left the field of play due to injury, so Carbery had further duties to fulfill which he took in his stride.

“Noel Reid went off with a bang on his hip and Adam Byrne with a bang on his quad. He was covering 10 if he had to.

“There were a few bumps and bruises but nothing major.”

-Additional reporting by Sean Farrell.

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