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'It's one of the worst days I've had with Leinster for a long time' - Cullen

The Leinster head coach still believes his side can qualify from Pool 5.

IF LEO CULLEN didn’t know all about the stress of being a head coach, he does now.

His Leinster team were dismantled by Wasps at the RDS yesterday afternoon to put themselves on the back foot in the Champions Cup with just a single Pool 5 game played. They must recover swiftly from the 33-6 defeat and rebound against Bath on Saturday.

Luke McGrath and teammates dejected after the game Leinster's players trudge off after defeat at the RDS. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The sheer breadth of Leinster’s poor performance in Dublin makes that trip to The Rec a worrying proposition. The Irish province were clearly second best in the scrum, lineout, rucks, tackling, counter-attacking, aerial contest yesterday; just about everywhere.

They missed the likes of captain Isa Nacewa, fullback Rob Kearney, Rhys Ruddock, Luke Fitzgerald and Ben Te’o, but even still the big names remaining in the XV failed to deliver.

Vice captains Jamie Heaslip and Johnny Sexton failed to provide leadership in the three-try defeat to an excellent Wasps outfit, but Cullen said the loss of Nacewa and others was no excuse.

I think we’ve got some really good leaders, guys who have done it at international level, so I don’t think that’s an excuse for us,” said Cullen post-match. “I just think we looked disjointed. I talked before the game about the fear of us being a little bit disjointed with guys coming back into the set-up.

“I thought we were in a good place during the week but we were almost trying too hard when we found ourselves in a position where we’re 16-6 down. We just looked very, very ragged after that.

“Guys were making simple handling mistakes, inaccuracies with our set-piece, guys running into touch. We just misfired right across the board.”

This was Cullen’s European debut as Leinster’s head coach and given that he believed he had prepared his side well, he must have felt anger at how lethargic his players were.

Leo Cullen speaks to the press after the game Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

It was alarming how little fight Leinster showed in the physical contest and in terms of attempting to claw their way back into the game. Indeed, it seemed at times that Leinster simply accepted Wasps’ capture of the momentum.

Cullen refused to criticise his players directly, but did point out that there were a range of uncharacteristic mistakes.

“It’s very frustrating, it’s very frustrating for us all,” said Cullen. “I’m sure it’s very frustrating for fans watching, I’m sure the players are very frustrated with themselves.

You can see that they’re very experienced guys that are making very uncharacteristic mistakes and it can have a knock-on effect like that. You start poorly, you give away a few cheap penalties and Wasps, to be fair to them, managed the game pretty well.

“They played the game in the right areas, didn’t have to play huge amounts. Any time they got inside our 22, they were scoring points. It wasn’t really from sustained pressure, even an uncharacteristic mistake of a shot at goal that drops short.

“We don’t deal with the ball, the ball knocks forward, somebody picks it up and it’s a penalty right in front of the posts. Little things like that can be very hard to explain.”

The scrutiny on Cullen after this game largely focused on the decision to replace the injured Isa Nacewa with Ian Madigan at a late stage, despite the Ireland international not having started a game at fullback for over a year.

Leo Culen Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Zane Kirchner, an international fullback, was left on the right wing.

“He (Nacewa) got a bang at the start of the week, so Ian had trained at 15 for most of the week.” said Cullen. “It didn’t cause a huge amount of disruption to the team. We had hoped that he (Nacewa) would be ok, the feeling was that he would be ok, but he tried and tried again when he tested himself.

“He just didn’t feel quite right so we made the change. Ian had trained there throughout the week.”

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Rather than dwelling on selection decisions, Cullen pointed to Leinster’s habit of giving away “cheap points” in what he admitted was a “pretty awful” performance that leaves them in trouble in Europe.

These things happen every now and again. It’s one of the more bizarre games that I’ve seen where a team hasn’t put us under a lot of pressure for any great periods of play but we just don’t manage our way out of being in a situation where we’re 16-6 down.

“It’s very frustrating, very disappointing and it’s one of the worst days I’ve had being involved with Leinster for a long time. We’re very disappointed with the way we’ve conducted ourselves today.”

Cullen now has a number of injury headaches to deal with in the build-up to Saturday’s clash with Bath, who didn’t play last weekend on account of the postponement of their tie in Toulon.

Fergus McFadden dejected Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Leinster’s failure to take even a losing bonus point yesterday may be damaging in the final deciding of this group, but another defeat at The Rec on Saturday will leave them staring at a group-stage exit.

Cullen is keeping the faith.

“I definitely feel we can qualify. We’ve lost at home in the RDS before in our first game and qualified from the pool.

This group was always going to be difficult and we’re making life very difficult for ourselves, but it’s very important that we stand up now and be counted as individuals and as a collective.

“It’s a massive challenge for us, but this pool was always going to be exciting. Now for us, we’ve got to go out to Bath and give it our all. We don’t really need to think too much further down the track that that.”

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