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Dublin: 14 °C Sunday 5 July, 2020

Cullen confirms Leinster haven't made any new signings for next season

The Leinster head coach would be open to playing inter-pro games behind closed doors.

Updated Apr 20th 2020, 8:04 PM

LEINSTER BOSS LEO Cullen has confirmed that the province will not be bringing in any new players this summer as things stand.

The province will instead pursue a policy of promoting players from within their own academy ranks.

leo-cullen Leo Cullen and Leinster continue to work remotely. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

While some senior players’ contracts – including those of experienced fullback Rob Kearney and former Wallaby Joe Tomane – are set to expire in the summer months, Cullen and his coaching staff have not agreed any deals to bring in new players from outside the province.

Even before the financial impact of Covid-19 restrictions putting rugby on hold, Leinster had planned to move forward with a settled squad.

“We don’t have as much change as many other teams,” said Cullen today on a video conference call. “We don’t have players coming in.

“We’re a very settled group for the most part. A lot of younger players will get promoted from the academy and, as is the case every year, there are going to be a few players who retire at the end of the season.”

Cullen said the current situation in rugby is “a huge challenge” for players whose contracts are expiring this summer but who had not planned on retiring from the game.

With the sport currently on hold and no certainty if or when the current campaign will be finished out, it is a blurry situation.

“We have a number of players who will be out of contract and the contracting cycle runs until the end of June in Ireland so that creates problems straight away,” said Cullen.

“If we’re talking about getting ready to come back in, say, sometime at the end of May or the middle of May for this pre-season window and whether you’re able to finish out this season in July or August, what sort of form does that take?

“So it’s going to be very much on a case-by-case basis. We just try to communicate with the players individually and we’ll see how that all plays out.

ryan-baird-celebrates Leinster have exciting players like Ryan Baird in their academy. Source: Tommy Grealy/INPHO

“There’s going to be a good chunk of players that still haven’t got themselves sorted with contracts for next season so to speak and we’ll just have to wait and see what that looks like. But the players are open, they’re very understanding.

“It is clearly complicated because we don’t know what the end of the season is going to look like, but the players are open to different suggestions. When we know more information, we’ll cross that bridge.”

Leinster had their unbeaten season put on indefinite hold last month and they’re currently training from home, aiming towards a return to collective sessions on 18 May but well aware that scenario is still in major doubt.

Indeed, there are even fears that we may not have mass gatherings for sport for the remainder of 2020 after Health Minister Simon Harris suggested as much yesterday.

“We’ll adhere to all the various guidelines that come out,” said Cullen.

“We’re trying to focus on making sure we have a good-quality programme for the players to work on remotely. We’re fortunate in that we have a relatively stable playing group and management staff as well.

“We’re just trying to make the best of the situation we face into and being ready to come back whenever that is and what that format looks like.

“Clearly with mass gatherings, there are going to be challenges for all sports and we will try and do what is best for the group and for everybody.”

devin-toner-is-tackled-by-jeremy-loughman Inter-pro clashes behind closed doors are the most likely scenario for any return of rugby in Ireland. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

The possibility of playing games behind closed doors whenever sport does resume increases by the day, particularly given how unlikely it is that mass gatherings will be permitted.

“We will just get on with that if that is the arrangement,” said Cullen of the prospect of playing without fans in stadiums.

“We’ve all been involved in training games and pre-season games where there is not that same crowd atmosphere at games.

“It takes away from what supporters bring and we have been incredibly lucky over the last number of years in terms of the involvement our supporters have had, but it would be better than nothing and it would allow us to get the sport back up and running.”

An inter-provincial series of fixtures behind closed doors now seems like the most likely scenario for rugby resuming in Ireland.

“Definitely,” said Cullen when asked if inter-pros were a good potential option.

“There may be complications because we’re involved in cross-border competitions [the Pro14 and Champions Cup].

“We’ve got inter-provincial teams on our doorstep and we’ve got four teams and then we’ve got our club situation as well and what does all that look like, when do guys play, what’s the level we come back at?

“I think the provinces have been good in terms of their alignment and we’re all working to a similar plan. So if there is a situation where we need to get back up and playing games, at least that situation is positive because the provinces are operating under very similar restrictions, I guess.”

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Murray Kinsella

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