Cullen: We need to build momentum
Leinster captain Leo Cullen has called on his teammates to put in a big performance against Connacht on Saturday in the hope that it will give the province something to build on in 2013.
Joe Schmidt’s team are placed fifth in the RaboDirect PRO12 and face an uphill battle to make it out of the pool stages of the Heineken Cup.
Having lost their last three games in all competitions the eastern province need a quick change in fortunes if they are to avoid their worst season since Schmidt took charge in 2010.
Cullen knows his team are facing into a crucial juncture in the context of the season and he is eager to eradicate the errors which have cost them points in recent weeks.
“From our perspective we have to try and build some momentum coming into a busy next few weeks which will go a long way to defining the rest of the season,” the lock remarked.
“We need some big results and we need to try and get some more rhythm to our play.
“Against Clermont in the Aviva, we gave away too many kickable penalties and (Morgan) Parra kicked seven out of eight of them.
“Then against Ulster Paddy Jackson missed a few fairly kickable shots at goal, but Ruan Pienaar stepped up and kicked well.”
It is this indiscipline which has hurt Leinster in recent matches and with former Scotland fly-half Dan Parks now pulling the strings at pivot for Connacht, Cullen is aware his team need to clean up their game if they want to come away from Galway with a win.
“This weekend Dan Parks will punish any penalties we give away because he has such a high kicking percentage and has proven himself time and again over the years.
“So we need to be more careful about giving quality sides easy opportunities to keep the scoreboard ticking over. These kinds of games are won and lost over the finest of margins.”
Leinster were lucky to come out on top in Galway last year when Isa Nacewa kicked them to victory in a contest which Connacht largely dominated and outscored Leinster two tries to none.
Cullen didn’t play in that fixture but he recalls the intensity Connacht showed for eighty minutes and he admits his side cannot allow Eric Elwood’s men to dominate again this weekend.
“We learned a few harsh lessons over in the Sportsground last time out against Connacht. I acted as water-boy that day and it was tough watching from the sidelines.
“They brought greater physicality to the game and they dominated us in that regard in Galway. We can’t allow them to have that kind of an upper hand again.”
Looking ahead to 2013 the Leinster skipper knows he and his teammates will have to work hard to make an impression in the PRO12 and in Europe and he is hopeful for a clean bill of health which will strengthen the squad as they approach the business end of the season.
“As 2012 draws to a close and we move into a new year, it’s still all to play for. My first wish is that we get a few more points on the board.
“When we get a few more bodies on the deck that will boost competition for places because we’ve been disrupted through the first half of the season and we have lacked a bit of fluency thus far.
“Ulster are racing clear at the top of the (PRO12) table and they’re going to be very hard to rein in, so we need to dig deep to get back into the top four.
“We travel to Edinburgh in the PRO12 before facing Scarlets at home in Europe and then travel to Exeter Chiefs where they have a great record at home.
“By the end of January we’ll know our fate and we have a bit of ground to catch up on. And, for us, that process starts this weekend.”