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'Nerves and butterflies' as Leinster resume training with fitness tests after three-month hiatus

‘It’s good to be back, great seeing some of the faces coming in today,’ said Leo Cullen.

Leinster boss Leo Cullen.
Leinster boss Leo Cullen.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

LEO CULLEN WAS delighted to see Leinster resume training at their High Performance Centre in UCD today, and saluted the work of his backroom staff in keeping the show on the road digitally during coronavirus lockdown.

Cullen also saluted the IRFU who, along with Leinster staff, he said put in “a huge amount of work to get us to this point”, and expressed a degree of empathy as he watched his players go through fitness tests following a prolonged absence from group training.

“It’s good to be back, great seeing some of the faces coming in today,” Cullen said. “The guys are out there [fitness] testing away, which is great to see and they seem to have turned up in very good condition to the naked eye, so we’ll see what the numbers tell us.

“I think having gone through so many fitness tests myself over the years, you get to understand what that’s like.

“As many times as you can do those running tests, you still have the same nerves and butterflies, so it’s amusing watching the guys, there, going through the pain of it all.

“But as I said, they have come back in good shape — from what we have seen at least. It’s fantastic to see the faces: we have spent a long time apart, now, so slowly but surely we’ll come back.”

Cullen paid tribute to his support staff for their work over the past three months, particularly “Guy Easterby and Ronan (O’Donnell) from the operations point of view, Charlie Higgins and Cillian Reardon from the strength and conditioning – making sure that the players have been equipped. So, getting all the gym gear out to them when lockdown came about, programming all the guys, staying in contact with all the players.

“Then, obviously trying to reverse our way out of lockdown and get all the gear back. The place looks great there.

“A huge amount of effort has gone in, in terms of the actual facility, getting it cleaned – it has been scrubbed down relentlessly over the past number of days — even weeks — as well.

“Huge credit to guys and Gareth Farrell and all his medical team as well. We have got Dr John Ryan on the frontline in Vincent’s. He has been keeping us up to date with the various goings-on and what it’s like on the frontline, so to speak.

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“We have been very lucky in that regard, with all the work and effort they have put in. We are very, very appreciative.

Rugby has taken a bit of a back seat. The coaches have been in contact with various different methods like Zoom and Microsoft Teams over the course of the 12 weeks. From an operations point of view, the backroom team have really taken on most of the responsibility, so credit to all of those guys.

The Guinness Pro14 is set to officially resume on 22 August, which Cullen explained offers his side plenty of time to get up to speed on the field of play.

But there are plenty of stages to get through, too, before a mooted clash with Munster in Dublin on that date, with players currently prohibited from training as a full team or even as two groups of backs and forwards; full contact is also not yet an option and will need to be reintroduced in line with government guidelines over the coming weeks as players bid to redevelop collision fitness before kick-off.

“The big thing is to get into the workflow of what that is going to be like,” Cullen said.

“We’re in very small groups at the moment, depending on forwards and backs; we’re in groups of four, five or six. We’ve eight different groups. That will get built up next week, from eight to more than likely four groups.

“We’re changing in line with government guidelines as well. The IRFU are in communications all the time, we’re very much being guided by that, and we’re trying to make sure the environment is as safe as possible.

All the various monitoring and screening that needs to take place is going to be important for us so if something was to happen we’d be able to shut things down quite quickly.

“With that date of 22 August, we’ve some time to be slow and gradual. On the flipslide, it won’t be too long before it comes around and we’re all very excited about that prospect.”

Munster also returned to training in Limerick today and provided a fitness update for several key players eight weeks out from 22 August’s slated interprovincial clash with Cullen’s men.

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