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Dublin: 5 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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'Johnny's a very passionate guy': Leinster point to future potential after Sexton's culture criticism

‘When a club like Leinster is successful talent gets recognised elsewhere.’

File photo: Sexton and Cullen have a training ground chat in November.
File photo: Sexton and Cullen have a training ground chat in November.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

WHEN (AND IT should be thought of as ‘when’ rather than ‘if’) Leinster win at the RDS tomorrow, they’ll look down from the top two of the Pro12 after a 22-game season WITH a home semi-final around the corner and 160 minutes between them and a trophy.

We might well see them top the pile and think: ‘what was all the fuss about?’ But they were in the same position last week when Jonathan Sexton decided to address internal concerns externally.

The environment and the culture that teams set their watches by is of an incomparable standard to the Leinster he left behind, Sexton believed even before he was part of the side that slumped to a “pathetic” 30 – 6 inter-provincial defeat.

This week, he added that the issues he highlighted may take a long time to mend. Rather than underline Sexton’s warning, head coach Leo Cullen pointed to the structural changes that the organisation as a whole has had to cope with.

“Johnny’s a very passionate guy,” says Cullen, “he’s very passionate about Leinster Rugby and he wants us to be good all the time.

Of course there’s a change, but that’s the name of the game. The club went through a very successful period, but some players have moved on. When a club like Leinster is successful talent gets recognised elsewhere.

“A lot of the management and backroom staff have gone on to the Irish team: head coach (Joe Schmidt), S&C (Jason Cowman), scrum coach (Greg Feek), skills coach (Richie Murphy)… so a lot of talent has moved on. Things are different.”

Meanwhile, Cullen’s captain Isa Nacewa, who was away from the province for the same period as Sexton, attempted to accentuate the positives of the fresh building blocks already in place.

“Look, we’re in a new phase. It’s been a fun year: World Cup year, a lot of the Irish boys were gone then and in the Six Nations.

“We’ve used a whole host of players. It’s great to see guys like Joey Carbery coming through, Garry Ringrose and Ross Molony stepped up. It’s been a fun learning curve along the way. We’ve progressed every week. We aim to get better every week and that’s all we can control.”

Isa Nacewa and  Leo Cullen Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cullen puts a figure on the talent coming through, he’s given 10 academy players the opportunity to impress in the professional rugby arena this season and puts a Made In Leinster tag on 24 more men around the island.

European success feels a distant dream when you can’t get out of the group, but the former skipper will take heart from other boxes in his remit which have been successfully ticked.

“That’s all part of the cyclical nature of it,” a calm Cullen adds.

“It’s going to be different. When certain players move on, it’s important for the next tier to step up. We’re going through that process at the moment, but we’re excited about what we’re in right now.”

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Sean Farrell

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