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'A bit of a narrow focus' - Cullen not buying BOD and Nacewa's theory on Ireland's decline

‘There’s 12 Munster players. Why does nobody pick up the change of coaches in Munster? Did that have an effect?’

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster (file pic).
Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster (file pic).

LEO CULLEN BELIEVES there has been a ‘narrow focus’ to the recent comments made by Isa Nacewa and Brian O’Driscoll in relation to Ireland’s ignominious World Cup exit.

Speaking on Will Greenwood’s Rugby Podcast for Sky Sports last week, Nacewa felt that – having allowed a ‘little bit of that Leinster flair infiltrate the Ireland camp’ during the 2018 Grand Slam success – Joe Schmidt subsequently returned to a more conservative, structured-based game plan.

In a similar vein, O’Driscoll suggested on Off The Ball that Stuart Lancaster’s introduction of ‘unstructured chaos’ to Leinster may have ‘upset the apple cart’ within Schmidt’s international set-up.

Whereas both O’Driscoll and Cullen brought their playing careers to a close in 2014, Nacewa played under the latter in his second stint with Leinster (2015-18). Lancaster was added to the mix during this spell (the 2016/17 season), which means he is ideally placed to assess the respective styles of Schmidt and the former England chief.

However, Cullen is adamant that the changes in coaching staff at the other provincial sides should be factored into any conversation surrounding Ireland’s recent fall from grace.

“There’s comparisons being made when coaches come in. You could easily say, at the World Cup, there was 14 Leinster players went out there originally. There’s 12 Munster players. Why does nobody pick up the change of coaches in Munster? Did that have an effect?” head coach Cullen stressed at Leinster’s media briefing in UCD yesterday.

“Or the change of coaches in Connacht, because they’ve gone from Pat [Lam] to Kieran Keane to Andy Friend. Ulster have gone from Les [Kiss] to Jono [Gibbes] to Dan McFarland. It’s a bit of a narrow focus, would be my overall observation.

“What about England? How many teams are represented in their group? What about New Zealand? Coaches come and go all the time. That’s my overall view of that.”

leo-cullen-and-stuart-lancaster Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster during Leinster's training session on Monday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Whilst he is clearly at odds with Nacewa and O’Driscoll’s interpretations of why Ireland underperformed in Japan, Cullen admits it is essential to keep up to speed with the continuing trends within the game.

Following Wales’ bronze final against New Zealand at the World Cup this weekend, Robin McBryde will assume his new role as Leinster assistant coach – taking over from the Ireland-bound John Fogarty.

Cullen is hopeful the Bangor native can help the blues to stay ahead of the curve.

“A good strong character and someone who is going to challenge our way of thinking about things,” Cullen said of McBryde.

“If you are just doing the same thing all the time it will just be stale and teams figure you out. We understand all that. We try and add bits. How you go and look at the game. What are we seeing? What are the trends of the World Cup? Try to stay ahead of the game the whole time.

“Were we ahead of the game at the weekend [a 3-0 win against Zebre]? Not really. It looked like off the previous two games in the RDS we were making great progress. You come back to reality but again the teams at this stage of the season, it’s very different. Some teams are affected by World Cup call-ups.”

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