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Heineken Cup: Sidelined skipper Cullen keeping options open

The second row is struggling after an operation on his Achilles, but will hope to make an impact later this season.

Image: ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

“I’M ALWAYS AVAILABLE for selection – pending, obviously, my body.”

With his contract set to expire at the end of the season, Leo Cullen won’t rule anything out: retirement, a one-year extension, playing for Ireland or applying for the upcoming vacancy as Leinster forwards coach.

It’s all on the table.

Devin Toner says the 35-year-old is ‘already like a coach’ in the manner with which he moves the younger members of his pack around and calls the line-out.

The problem is, the Leinster captain has been forced into too much instruction and not enough action these days.

“I had a procedure done a few weeks ago and it wasn’t ideal timing, but I am where I am,” Cullen says of the operation to remove a bursa [fluid sack] from his Achilles.  The skipper’s injury is slow to heal, but, 36 in January, Cullen is in no mood to call it quits just yet.

“From my memory of playing at the end of last season I was really enjoying it and that is what I’m currently happiest doing at the moment. I love the games and I’m looking forward to getting out there and playing a game for Leinster again because once you see the other lads in action, it seems like a long time ago since I last played a rugby match.”

His absence is untimely too. Defeat in Thomond Park is a setback at the best of times, but when the next opponent is the black-shirted bogey team of the Ospreys, you need all the leadership and confidence boosters available.

“They are a serious outfit. Particularly up front, they were making up the majority of the Lions pack during the summer. You could see some of the characters, how influential they are at that level of test match rugby. You could only imagine the impact they are going to have at a provincial standard.

“We’re going to play against them four times and there is not going to be much in any of those games. At the launch of the Pro12 I was beside Alun Wyn Jones and the same message was coming from him. They are going to have a massive say in how our season unfolds this year. [There will] be some very tough battles against them.”

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Cullen, last seen dressed as Leo The Lion ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Saturday evening in Swansea will be the second of the minimum four meetings between the 2011 Pro12 finalists. The first was, of course, the thrilling 29 – 29 draw at the RDS. As things stand – with Cullen, Brian O’Driscoll and now Richardt Strauss – sidelined, they have won just two of their five games, yet sit only six points behind the 100% record of Glasgow Warriors.

“It is seven pretty tough fixtures straight off the bat,” Cullen says of the run up to the home fixture against Castres on October 19.

He speaks, though, with the face of an onlooker. The run of iffy form has made his time out injured even tougher still.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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