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Cullen thinks South African addition will be shot in the arm for the Pro14

Leinster have won the last four titles – but South Africa’s big four provinces are set to join the competition.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

LEINSTER COACH LEO Cullen believes the addition of South Africa’s four leading franchises is vital for the future of the Pro14.

Having won four straight championships, Leinster’s dominance of the Pro14 was drawing comparisons with Dublin’s stranglehold over the All-Ireland SFC.

They’re not as likely to get things their own way from now on, however, with the Bulls, Sharks, Stormers and Lions set to join the party, starting next month with The Rainbow Cup.

All four clubs have reached at least one Super Rugby final, the Lions appearing in three successive deciders from 2016-18; the Bulls winning three titles between 2007 and 2010; with the Sharks making four finals and the Stormers one.

“They are a big deal, those four teams,” said Cullen. “For the credibility of the competition we play in, for the profile of the competition it is only going to be positive.

“It creates lots of different challenges.

“We’ll get a very short snap-shot of it this year with the Rainbow Cup, moving forward it’s going to be slightly different.

“It’s a very positive development overall.

“If you’ve been to South Africa, it is one of the biggest rugby markets in the world. They’re the world champions, they’ve so many players that have played in the World Cup winning team that will be representing those four teams – so, yeah, it’s going to be a massive challenge and that’s what we all want. To test ourselves against the best that’s out there.”

After winning his fifth trophy as Leinster coach on Saturday, Cullen admitted the value of the win was decreased somewhat by the absence of supporters.

johnny-sexton-after-the-game Alone he stands: Sexton walks around an empty RDS. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Fans make the occasion in my mind. Think of what it would have been like, it’s a great advert for the game to see two teams going at it hell for leather and you’ve got to applaud the players for the attitude that’s being shown.

“It’s played in the right spirit, you can see by both sets of players, but if you have a crowd there it just adds another dimension. You have an atmosphere and that’s what we’re missing.

“Hopefully we get that back before too long, but it’s day by day.”

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Next up is Toulon, who defeated Cullen’s Leinster twice in his debut season as head coach.

“They are a star-studded team,” he said. “You think of some of the players they have in their line-up – I see Parisse is back in their team tonight, Ma’a Nonu (who was sent off), you go across the team and the players who played with France on Friday night like Serin, Ollivon, Taofifenua.

“So, yeah, it’s a massive challenge for us and that’s why we’re involved in the game.

“It won’t be easy, but that’s what will make it all the more special if we manage to get through to a quarter-final the week after and we’ll see who that’s against – either Exeter or Lyon who are battling it out.”

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Garry Doyle

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