Cullen is 'the right man' but Sexton sees scope for fresh voice at Leinster

The out-half says he sees some similarities between Cullen and Joe Schmidt.

FOR LEINSTER FANS underlining reasons to be optimistic about the next two seasons, the rekindling of the Johnny Sexton and Leo Cullen combination is surely the main focus.

The relationship will be different this time around, as the out-half returns from two years with Racing 92 to work as one of Cullen’s players rather than as his teammate.

Jonathan Sexton, Fergus McFadden and Leo Cullen celebrate Sexton and Cullen with Fergus McFadden after their 2011 Heineken Cup win. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Sexton and Cullen won three Heineken Cups together from 2009 to 2012, all three of those finals featuring the Ireland out-half in the 10 shirt with the wily Cullen captaining the team.

The roles have changed, both people have perhaps changed too, but Sexton is of the belief that the relationship will again be a hugely positive one for Leinster.

Cullen’s permanent appointment as head coach of Leinster on a two-year contract was confirmed yesterday. Kurt McQuilkin’s deal as defence coach has also been extended, while John Fogarty had previously taken over from Marco Caputo as scrum specialist.

Sexton unsurprisingly greeted this Leinster coaching ticket as a good thing.

“It’s great news for the province to have somebody who knows the place so well in charge and knows what’s expected, the standards that are needed to compete at the highest level and to play to the standard Leinster fans expect,” said Sexton.

That’s where we want to get back to and I think he’s the right man. He’s got the players’ backing, I know that from talking to the players.

“The other guys who he’s brought in with him bring – I know they are familiar faces – a bit of freshness as well with Kurt coming back after a break and John Fogarty as well and then the backs is Girvan for the time being and we’ll see how that goes, so it’s good.”

It’s been a slightly rocky road towards Cullen’s appointment for Leinster, as they first looked abroad for an experienced head coach to succeed Matt O’Connor, found a lack of interest in some quarters and then realised that promoting from within was the way to go.

Speaking in Dublin Airport yesterday, Sexton did suggest that there is still room for an outside influence within Leinster’s backroom staff, a new voice to add to the homegrown expertise.

“Leo was obviously going to be involved in some shape or form and then obviously if they brought in someone ahead of him, well then we still would have had Leo’s influence in the environment,” said Sexton.

Johnny Sexton Johnny Sexton is an Aer Lingus ambassador. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“Maybe there’s scope for someone foreign or someone new to come in and take over a certain area. Maybe that will happen going forward, I don’t know.

“We’re a bit separated from it at the moment anyway because although we’re with Leinster this week we’re very much in the Irish programme. We’re not really taking part in Leinster pitch sessions or anything so it will be very new to us when we get back.”

Clearly, being promoted to head coach in just his second season after retiring from playing wasn’t quite in the plan for Cullen, but Sexton believes “special people do special things” and that the new Leinster boss is in that bracket.

Sexton has a reputation for being unforgiving to those who don’t reach his demanding standards, though he says Cullen is a leader in terms of “giving it to you straight-up.” Indeed, Sexton says he sees a likeness between Cullen and Joe Schmidt in this regard.

Discipline would be an important thing,” said Sexton. “Already I can see around the place it’s such a big thing and it’s so important in an environment.

“And he’s a clever guy. Combine all those things and, having worked with Joe, he is very similar to Joe in that regard.

“At times, Leo was able to tell Joe how he saw things and Joe took it on board. Look, he’s got great experience having worked with three really good coaches and having gone to Leicester and experienced something there.

“Maybe someone new might come in with him to keep things fresh.”

A positive endorsement for Cullen from one of the best out-halves in the world, but one that comes with a hint that Leinster’s coaching staff might not be fully complete just yet.

Johnny Sexton was at Dublin Airport to encourage Irish fans to make the smart choice and fly with Aer Lingus as they travel to support Ireland. Aer Lingus is the official airline of the Irish rugby team. Supporters can find out more at  

Sonny Bill Williams in New Zealand 7s squad for Rio Olympics season

Cullen will have the backing of everyone as Leinster head coach – Toner

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.