Cullen at the Aviva Stadium earlier today.
Cool under pressure

'I don't think the results have changed anything, I don't feel any additional pressure'

The Leinster head coach remains focused on the job in hand.

LEINSTER HEAD COACH Leo Cullen insists he doesn’t feel he’s under additional pressure despite enduring a difficult first six months in the job.

The eastern province are desperately searching for a spark to ignite their faltering season after a run of three defeats in Europe has left their hopes of progression hanging by a thread.

Throughout the week, the message from Leinster HQ has been clear: the staff and players won’t accept defeat in their quest to advance further in the Champions Cup until it’s mathematically impossible.

Ahead of Saturday’s return fixture with Toulon at the Aviva Stadium, Cullen maintained that party line and says the last few weeks haven’t put any additional pressure on his shoulders.

“Do I feel under pressure? I feel under pressure all the time, yeah,” he said at this afternoon’s press conference. “I always feel the pressure like that. I don’t think the results have changed, I don’t feel any additional pressure, if that’s what you’re asking?

“I’m fully focused on preparing the team as best as possible, I feel that pressure all the time but there is no additional pressure.”

Leinster welcome the three-time European champions to Dublin on the back of three successive reversals in Pool 5 and know only a bonus-point win at the weekend will keep their European season alive.

It’s a difficult, and unprecedented, situation Cullen’s charges find themselves in with three group games remaining.

Leo Cullen The Leinster head coach speaking at the pre-match press conference. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The head coach has found himself under the spotlight since assuming the reins in August but there’s now nowhere to hide. The rumblings of discontent from supporters are beginning to reverberate but they continue to come out in force to back the team.

Over 40,000 tickets for Saturday have been pre-sold and Cullen stressed the importance of the supporter’s backing.

“I think what the Leinster fans are doing this weekend, is exactly what they need to do,” he continued. “Come out in force to support the team and the team definitely needs the support.

“The level of competition has never been higher, in terms of the resources that the teams we’re playing against have now. It’s not just the Irish provinces, it’s all the teams in the Pro12 are coming under pressure because that’s the nature of things of what’s going on in England and France. We’ve to be very clever as to how we manage our resources.

“In terms of giving a message to the supporters, what they’re doing this weekend by what is hopefully going to be 40,000 plus crowd.

“That’s amazing support, any team across the world would be more than happy with that level of support. For us we just need to focus on giving the fans who are staying with the team a level of performance they’re satisfied with.”

Leinster trained at Lansdowne Road this morning as they finalise preparations for the visit of the French heavyweights. Cian Healy will be unavailable for selection after he was handed a two-week suspension for an incident involving Toulon’s Guilhem Guirado last weekend.

Otherwise, Cullen reported a generally clean bill of health with the majority of the squad enjoying a run out on Thursday morning.

Sean O’Brien, however, remains sidelined as he continues to nurse an inner-ear issue. The flanker took part in the session today and Cullen is hopeful he’ll be back in action before the end of the calendar year.

“Sean is still rehabbing,” Cullen explained. “He saw a specialist again this morning so it’s that issue he has, he’s getting close, very, very close, not a million miles away.

Sean O'Brien Sean O'Brien took part in the squad session as he continues his recovery. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We’d hope to have him back before the end of the year, obviously this week and next, so we’re hoping he will be back in that time frame. He’s done all his return to play, he was on the field this morning but hasn’t returned to full contact.

“Luke McGrath is a couple of weeks away, Isaac Boss had a niggle as well. Noel Reid has made some good progress from the ankle injury he picked up against Ulster so should be back next week or the week after.

“Like most teams, there are usually 10 injured guys, that’s just the way it is when you’re in the midst of a very tough run of games.”

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