Cullen ready to chop and change for the hectic Christmas battles

by James Hendicott
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LEO Cullen’s Leinster can push to the brink of qualification for the European Champions Cup quarter-finals if they can back up their hugely impressive victory over the Exeter Chiefs last Sunday.
An 18-8 victory at Sandy Park cemented the province’s status as one of the favourites for the competition and a repeat victory in front of a large home crowd will further augment that reputation.
“The Aviva games are huge for the club,” Cullen told the Dublin Gazette ahead of Saturday’s tie.
“47,000 people coming out shows the strength of Leinster rugby, it’s a real point of difference for Leinster. They’re showcases, special events that allow us to compete with teams around Europe, against the TV money that’s on offer in England and France. We’re competing against that all the time.
“Exeter won the English league ahead of the champions of Europe in Saracens and ahead of Wasps. They’re a strong club that has built slowly, in the right way, and they’re really difficult to play.”
It continues a hectic month for Leinster in a season which has already presented new challenges. The double-header trip to South Africa in the Pro-14 in September is recalled as being “logistically difficult” with Leinster playing “guinea pigs”.
But the Christmas season holds its own challenges with the Exeter contest followed by games with Munster, Connacht and Ulster in quick succession.
“It’s very attritional but we have a really strong squad, which is becoming more important. We’re trying to make sure things like the South Africa trip don’t have any long term effect.
“When you play those away games, we’d normally fly home the night of the game but obviously that can’t happen in South Africa. We flew home and couldn’t train until Wednesday for a game on Friday.
“It’s not ideal but it’s the reality of how you play now. It’s very squad focused, and it’s probably one of the things that attracts players to Irish clubs over others.
“We do care for our players and we think a lot about the best man in. We’ll be chopping and changing throughout Christmas, as that’s the nature of it.”
The recent confirmation of Jordi Murphy’s departure for Ulster, after coming through the Leinster youth system, is a case in point.
“We have to deal with these things on a case by case basis,” Cullen explained. “It’s a highly competitive environment to be in. Obviously Jordi’s weighed up his options and decided his future lies elsewhere. We’re really sad to see him go, he was a great contributor.”

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