Leo Cullen handles Leinster overview perfectly

Three weeks ago, in Cape Town, the clock was in the red against the Stormers. Leinster, led 20-13, had just earned a penalty. Substitute Harry Byrne tapped the ball then kicked it dead, thus ending the contest and settling for the losing bonus point.

Alex Soroka was visibly pissed on. He held out his hands plaintively, clearly questioning Byrne’s decision. Soroka wanted Leinster to go up the line and go for the draw. The 21-year-old academy and Clontarf lock were making their first start of the season, having played just one game off the bench, and that was in defeat with a bonus point losing the previous week against the Sharks.

He also had a stormer, his athleticism and tackling earning him the Man of the Match award. But the bonus point in Cape Town was enough to ensure Leinster finished top of the table, guaranteeing them the carrot of a home run to the final. Mission accomplished. Ciarán Frawley could then be seen explaining the reasoning to Soroka.

Given what they face at home and abroad, what makes Leinster’s success all the more remarkable is that of the 59 players used this season, all but six are homegrown players. .

The episode told us a few things, including how the 11 academy players from the 31-man squad who took part in those two games rose to the challenge. The comeback with two losing bonus points was in many ways one of the highlights of Leinster’s season and underscored their remarkable production line and strength through depth.

The academy trio of lock Brian Deeny and prostitutes John McKee and Lee Barron made their debuts for Leinster in the Sharks game, while Chris Cosgrave made his first start. Against the Stormers, academy flanker Seán O’Brien made his first appearance of the season from the bench.

This brought the number of players used by Leinster this season to 59, including 46 senior professionals and 13 academy players.

This deft and judicious balance is, by many accounts, where Leo Cullen’s understated and understated genius comes into play, although it’s understandable that he would want to pass on much of the credit as it requires a huge amount of work by a large number of people to keep the well-oiled Leinster machine running in circles.

“Yeah, it’s a challenge for the guys because they all want to play for sure. Some of the younger ones would have an understanding in terms of the big picture and everything. But I have to say that they really did a great job.

That’s why he describes Soroka’s aforementioned reaction as “one of my favorite images of the season”, adding: “It’s a great mindset to have because obviously they want to win the game, which I I really like, and I don’t like throwing the ball at the end, but in terms of handling the big picture, sometimes that’s the thing to do.

“So the guys, I have to say, have acquitted themselves well and it creates positive pressure in terms of selection which is what you want and long may it continue that these young guys keep putting the pressure on.

“But a lot of work goes into that as well, so big credit to Simon Broughton and all the academy coaches. Even when we played Connacht in those Champions Cup weeks, the guys were preparing for that trip to South Africa and managing that weather well. But yeah, it’s a positive headache to have, so don’t get me wrong.

“This week is another chance for the guys and I guess what they’ve done in the last X weeks it gives you the confidence to pick them again and that’s what you want. You want these guys “There go on and accumulate caps so they become more experienced players all the time. But the guys work hard for each other, which is nice.


As well as providing the frontline team with these three weeks of preparation for the quarter-finals and two weeks of preparation for next Saturday’s Champions Cup final against La Rochelle in Marseille, this South African safari was also an investment in the future.

Unfortunate Tommy O’Brien, since out with an ACL injury for nine months, didn’t seem fazed as he came up against World Cup final striker Makazele Mapimpi. McKeen and Barron each went up against another World Cup winner in Bongi Mbonambi.

Brian Deeny faced Gerbrandt Grobler, and all backrowers including Martin Moloney played Siya Kolisi, while 22-year-old Thomas Clarkson battled Steven Kitshoff.

The reward for 14 of the squad that played these games in South Africa is a place in the match day squad in front of over 30,000 spectators against Munster at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 7.15pm) this evening. He’s Leinster’s only dead rubber in 26-28 matches this season, but none of them will undoubtedly treat him like that.

It’s also a measure of how Cullen and his team have handled players of which only six have passed 1,000 minutes, with Ross Molony leading with 1,389 in his 20 games played so far to become a lock. front line.

The flagship and most important element of the Leinster pyramid is the excellence of their first team.

This is the team that everyone in the pyramid aspires to play for and in that Leinster are beholden to the clubs, who introduce children to the game and have become more important this season at AIL level, and of course the schools, as well than Leinster’s own army of regional development officers and coaches.

But no system is perfect. Next season Leinster will have 18 players in their 45-man senior squad who have come through either St Michael’s or Blackrock, as well as 45 per cent of next season’s academy. That leaves them heavily dependent on two schools, and hoped-for investments in regional centers of excellence could unearth more Tadhg Furlongs or Jamie Osbornes.

Jamie Osborne is among the new group of talented young players arriving at Leinster. Photography: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Strong and physical, with a good left boot, the talented centre/back will be making his 10th game of 12 appearances this season and Osborne will surely be fast-tracked into the senior squad next season, if he hasn’t already.

A product of 20-year-old Naas RFC, Osborne’s ball-playing skills were clearly honed by also playing for the GAA in his formative years, and his emergence is also a reminder that the depth of Dublin’s playing talent is likely to be greater. to that of rugby throughout Ireland. , never mind just Leinster.

“Yes, of course you want to get the best reach possible and we know that in Ireland it’s also competitive for the hearts and minds of children and their parents,” Cullen says. “GAA attracts a lot of talent in terms of child engagement, and football as well. I see that as a parent myself.

“But for us, we have to make sure that we try to broaden the base as widely as possible and go to every corner of the province to get as many kids involved in the game as soon as possible and be excited about it. idea to play, and continue to play too.

“The role of clubs this season has also been fantastic because we haven’t had as many ‘A’ games if you think about it. So a lot of our guys have come back, whether it’s senior guys, but certainly the majority of The academy guys have also had a lot of very valuable playing time with the clubs, which is good to see.

“For example, you had an all-Leinster final between ‘Tarf and Terenure, which is fantastic. We played an ‘A’/academy game against the clubs a few weeks ago, which is also a really good concept. It’s important that we try to engage as much as possible with the clubs, that’s where the work is done on the pitch.

“So we’re the beneficiaries of a lot of that good work that’s being done in the schools that you mentioned, clearly, but a lot of the clubs there as well on top of that.

“Even that Universities game (against Leinster ‘A’ a week ago), Tony Smeeth, my former Blackrock Under-20 manager, was ably helped by Hugh Maguire with the Irish Universities. Hugh was my under-12 coach at school. It’s great to see these types of people consistently performing on so many levels of the game because you need these great people involved in the game.”

Leinster will seek their fifth Heineken Champions Cup star next weekend and then turn their intentions to the quarter-finals a week later and a tilt to a fifth league title in a row. But it’s how they became a European power that sets them apart.


Given what they face at home and abroad, what makes Leinster’s success all the more remarkable is that of the 59 players used this season, all but six are homegrown players – namely Michael Ala’alatoa, James Lowe, Jamison Gibson-Park, Robbie Henshaw, Seán Cronin and Rhys Ruddock, and he quickly passed through Leinster academy on leaving Wales.

Then one can also consider how much of their conveyor belt has powered the other three provinces and continues to do so.

The Leinster machine. There really is nothing quite like it anywhere else in world rugby.

59 and over – Players Leinster have used this season

Vakh Abdaladze – 103 minutes played

Michael Ala’alatoa – 1,068

Ryan Baird – 442

Lee Barron – 39

Adam Byrne – 451

Ed Byrne – 577

Ross Byrne – 1,089

Harry Byrne – 437

Thomas Clarkson – 218

Jack Conan – 655

Will Connors – 51

Chris Cosgrave – 95

Sean Cronin – 290

Max Degan – 824

Brian Deeny – 95

Peter Dooley – 374

Caelan Doris – 838

Jack Dunne – 198

Cormac Foley – 99

Ciaran Frawley – 934

Tadhg Furlong – 454

Jamison Gibson-Park – 587

David Hawkshaw – 68

Cian Healy – 446

Robbie Henshaw – 559

David Kearney – 263

Hugo Keenan – 1,040

Ronan Keller – 466

Temi Lasissi – 1

Jordan Larmour – 648

Dan Leavy – 241

James Lowe – 855

Joe McCarthy – 394

Nick McCarthy – 294

John McKee – 119

Michael Milne – 12

Martin Molony – 172

Ross Molony – 1,389

Josh Murphy – 506

Luke McGrath – 916

Conor O’Brien – 66

Jimmy O’Brien – 1,103

Sean O’Brien – 19

Tommy O’Brien – 588

Rory O’Loughlin – 643

Max O’Reilly – 149

Jamie Osborne – 798

Scott Penny – 772

Andrew Porter – 587

Garry Ringrose – 996

Rhys Ruddock – 1,095

Rob Russell – 198

James Ryan – 368

Johnny Sexton – 502

Dan Sheehan – 485

Alex Soroka – 88

Diviner Tonic – 500

James Tracy – 519

Josh van der Flier – 929

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