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Some TV critics reckon 'Leo Cullen is under a lot of pressure now'

By Liam Heagney
Leinster's Leo Cullen walks out to the pitch before the URC semi-final at the Bulls (Photo By Shaun Roy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Premier Sports rugby pundits have questioned the position of Leinster head coach Leo Cullen after his team lost their United Rugby Championship semi-final at the Bulls on Saturday.

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The 20-25 loss in South Africa has left the Irish province without a trophy since 2021 – a drought that retired internationals Tom Shanklin and Stephen Ferris don’t believe is acceptable given the resources at their disposal.

Leinster’s win over Munster three years ago completed a run of four league titles in succession. However, they have failed to maintain that dominance since the competition became the URC following the addition of the four main South African rugby franchises.

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They have instead lost three semi-finals in a row, two at home to the Bulls and Munster and now they have been beaten away at the Bulls three weeks after they were defeated by Toulouse in London in the Champions Cup final, their third successive showpiece loss in that particular tournament.

It was February 2023 when Cullen extended his contract through to the summer of 2025 and his team’s coaching ticket was added to earlier this season with the addition of Jacques Nienaber, the Rugby World Cup-winning South African boss, as senior coach following the departure of Stuart Lancaster.

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However, Nienaber’s arrival hasn’t resulted in trophies materialising at the end of his first season involved and Premier Sports, who were broadcasting the URC semi-final live, suggested that Cullen is now under pressure following his club’s third successive season without a title. Here is how their post-game conversation unfolded:

Ross Harries: You look at their coaching ticket, they have just recruited Jacques Nienaber, a World Cup-winning coach, Leo Cullen is there, Robin McBryde, so many good, quality coaches. Will there come a point where their jobs are under question?

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Tom Shanklin: I think so.

Stephen Ferris: I agree.

Shanklin: I 100 per cent do think so. I think probably Leo Cullen is under a lot of pressure now because of the resources they have got, the players they have got. But I still go back to it, that is a solid place to go and win and they pushed them all the way but just weren’t physical enough. I still think there is a massive gap not filled by losing Johnny Sexton. They haven’t got anyone up to that level.

John Barclay: You talk about home advantage, if they didn’t get a home semi-final the chances were they would have to go to South Africa and they sent a second/third side to South Africa not long before the end of the season and they got beaten twice.

Shanklin: They are in too many competitions. They are looking at European competitions.

Barclay: The standard of the league has gone up as well. You look at the quality and how tight it was one to 10 this year.

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Shanklin: They will always be under pressure, though, if they don’t win because of the resources and the players they have got and the access to the players they have got and the players they let go.

Harries: There is that remarkable stat that Andrew Porter was the only member of that starting 15 today who has played a game in South Africa this season. Perhaps while we marvel at the luxury they have, that they can send a second string out, sometimes they are shooting themselves in the foot by doing so.

Barclay: Hindsight is a great thing. Did anyone anticipate the top four, the top eight being so tight? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But for me those games, to go over and come away with nothing and they went from second down to fourth. That’s why they ended up with an away semi-final.

Ferris: For me, Leinster the last few seasons they have really struggled to back a really impressive performance up with another one, with another one and that is what you need to do to win trophies. Even looking back to that Ulster game last week, we were all saying, how good were there, unbelievable, players in form, hugely physical, Ulster really tested them and they put on 40 points and if felt like it was a walk in the park come 80 minutes.

They have to back that up the following week. South African teams can, they can do that. They have shown us over the last number of seasons they can do that home and away. So Leinster, I know Leo Cullen in his post-match interviews over the last few weeks has talked about the group, the maturity of the group, how they are growing. You can say that as long as you want but you have got to keep progressing and for Leinster to do that, full stop, it’s winning trophies.

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Comments

4 Comments
G
GrahamVF 32 days ago

They certainly don’t play anything like a Nienaber coached team.

V
Vellies 32 days ago

Said that after last season… He's time is done. Time for a change…

B
BeegMike 32 days ago

Best team in the world, ends third in the URC

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