money isn't everything

Cullen dismisses suggestion salary cap stops English sides competing

‘Saracens usually do a very good job, don’t they?’

LEO CULLEN HAS dismissed claims by Wasps director of rugby Dai Young that English Premiership clubs cannot compete with Leinster in the Heineken Champions Cup because of a salary cap.

Young made the claims in the build-up to Sunday’s Pool 1 encounter between the sides at the Ricoh Arena [KO 3.15pm, BT Sport], highlighting the fact Leinster were able to field an all-international XV against Toulouse despite missing five Lions through injury. 

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking at Friday's press conference. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

Wasps have endured a miserable Champions Cup pool campaign, their interest in the competition long over having lost all five of their games, while English sides are winless against the provinces this season.

“As directors of rugby, we have a salary cap that we all adhere to and we all try to get as good a squad as possible, but I think its plain to see for everybody that it’s an attritional league and you do pick up injuries,” Young said earlier this week.

“When we pick up injuries, we are not replacing internationals with internationals, with internationals behind them as well.”

Young, whose side were hammered at the RDS back in October, says the Premiership salary cap — which limits each club to spending £7 million on their squad per season — is holding English sides back in Europe, yet 20 of defending champions Leinster’s matchday 23 for last weekend’s win over Toulouse were homegrown talent.

Wallaby Scott Fardy, Jamison Gibson-Park and Athlone native Robbie Henshaw, who is a product of the Connacht system, were the only players who hadn’t come up through the Leinster academy.

Accordingly, Cullen was quick to disagree with Young’s assertions, pointing to the two European titles Saracens have won on the same wage bill Wasps are operating on.

“Saracens usually do a very good job, don’t they?” Cullen said. “They operate on the same salary cap as Wasps, so whatever way people work the system… I don’t know if that’s a valid reason.

“I don’t know enough about the working of their salary cap, I know they have some players with reasonably high wage demands and they’ve spent big on some players.

“If you look at their [Wasps] squad, they’ve a ton of talent so, as I said, Saracens have won the European Cup twice in the last three years.

“Based on if they all have the same amount of money to spend and there is one of the teams in England that has won this competition twice in the last three years it disproves that comment, does it not?”

Cullen’s team for Sunday’s round six encounter in Coventry again shows 19 homegrown players, while reserve scrum-half Hugh O’Sullivan is still in the province’s academy and in line for a European debut off the bench.

Leinsters  Robbie Henshaw Leinster hammered Wasps in round one. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

“We’ve got a lot academy players that have been involved in the team this year, it’s a huge part of our model,” Cullen continued.

“We come under pressure because we have a lot of players that are away with the national team at various times. We use a huge amount of academy players. In terms of a salary cap, they’re not that expensive in comparison.

“We have certain restrictions in terms of the amount of foreign players we can bring, whereas there’s none of those restrictions on teams in France.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about the Irish teams not having a chance doing well in Europe ever again. There’s a certain cyclical nature to it as well.

Leinster head to the Ricoh Arena already assured of a place in the Champions Cup quarter-finals following Edinburgh’s victory over Montpellier on Friday night, but Cullen’s side have their sights on home advantage and a top-two seeding.

The province welcome back Robbie Henshaw from injury as the Ireland centre starts in midfield alongside Garry Ringrose, while Seán O’Brien is also back involved after recovering from a broken arm as he takes his place on the bench. 

“We have had some tough outings on this ground before so we need to be on guard and be nice and controlled away from home, in playing the way we want to play,” Cullen added.

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:

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