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Dublin: -1°C Monday 1 March 2021

Leo Cullen's heroics on the wing help keep Leinster in upbeat mood as they take aim at Ospreys

The Leinster head coach found himself strolling down memory lane this afternoon.

ISA NACEWA STRAIGHTENS his neck and his eyebrows move up his forehead, making room for eyes to widen to their fullest.

He can’t believe the picture being painted by his head coach Leo Cullen.

Leo Cullen and Isa Nacewa Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Things change in 30 years, but a man who straddled hemispheres while forging a career in the back three can’t quite get his head around how the man next to him started out in the same position.

“I remember playing my first game, on the wing, the thing I enjoyed most was tackling,” said the long-time second row (and never a quick second row) Cullen before the reaction to Nacewa’s glare encouraged him to delve deeper.

I scored a try, believe it or not, on the front pitch in St Mary’s School. For Willow Park against St Mary’s – I remember it like it was yesterday!”

Cullen was making the point that tackling, rather than something to be banned, is the very thing that attracts children to play rugby. And not just kids like the skinny eight-year-old who stunned the Rathmines Road that day, the next generation too.

“I did a coaching session for a bunch of under 13s recently. We were doing skills with them, with Ian Madigan,  and all they kept asking was: ‘can we do full tackling now?’ That’s why they’re drawn to the game, that’s what they love.”

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Leinster’s Isa Nacewa Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Light-hearted notes to what Cullen continuously terms a “serious issue,” but things are pretty upbeat about the Leinster province these days.

While the form graph most definitely plunged during the Champions Cup period late last year, in the Pro12 Cullen’s side have won 10 of the last 11 games.

A point off leaders Connacht with a game in hand, they can look at a bank of 11 points between them and fifth-placed Edinburgh and they also have the league’s second-highest try-scorer (behind Matt Healy) in Nacewa. Seven tries ain’t half bad for a man who was retired this time last year.

“Good stat,” says the Aucklander, “I don’t keep count. I just keep truckin’.”


Though six internationals are recalled for tomorrow’s meeting against the Ospreys, without his vice captains and some other experienced faces, Nacewa is by far the most seasoned figure around to pull the squad together in a fractured time of the season.

“I enjoy this period a lot. Similar to World Cup, there’s got to be a lot of belief and trust in the guys who step up and are getting opportunities.

“We’ve shown a lot of courage in the last two games, so it’s a good reflection of the squad and the culture’s building really nicely.”

The prevailing good mood might also be connected to the freshly-dried ink on so many new contracts.

Nacewa called his own extension an “easy decision to make” for both he and his wife. The 33-year-old adds that’s he’s enjoying the coaches too, and as long Cullen is keeping Leinster winning and laughing, who can argue?

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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