United Rugby Championship: Leo Cullen pleased as young Leinster squad clinch top spot

Dylan Coetzee

Leinster coach Leo Cullen believes it is “mission accomplished” despite only coming away with two points from as many matches in South Africa.

Cullen took a young squad to play against the Sharks and Stormers, leaving some of their more established players in Ireland to prepare for their Champions Cup charge.

Top of the pile

Despite finishing both games with losing bonus points, Leinster achieved their target of securing the top spot on the table and will have the luxury of hosting all their play-off games regardless of their opposition.

“I guess it is a case of mission accomplished, if you look at it like that,” Cullen told The42.

“I’m not someone who likes to see teams kicking the ball out at the final whistle [when they’re still in a position to avoid a loss]. But that’s professional rugby. You have to do what you need to do with the bigger picture in mind.

“We came into this tour with the intent to win two games. We were frustrated with our performance against the Sharks, and there were moments when our composure let us down against the Stormers.

“However, we have always been aiming for that No 1 seed [in the United Rugby Championship] so to get a couple of losing bonus points is a case of job done.”

Stormers coach John Dobson was impressed with Leinster’s squad depth as the watered-down Dublin side almost claimed a gutsy win in Cape Town this weekend.

“Ospreys coach Toby Booth told me that the toughest side to face is Leinster, and that the second-toughest side to face is Leinster ‘B’,” he said. “They pushed us hard tonight.”

Cullen is rightfully delighted with his young players, who held their own during the tour in conditions largely new to the squad.

“We’re very pleased with the effort,” he said.”We made the decision to back these young players, some of whom are out of the academy, and overall they acquitted themselves well.

“The Sharks and Stormers had plenty of Springboks at their disposal. Both of those teams put us under pressure and exposed us in certain areas. Our players have a lot to learn, but they will be better for this experience.”

The Leinster coach praised the inclusion of South African sides and looks forward to having more “battles” in the future.

“It’s a shot in the arm, to have these South African teams in the tournament. They’re just going to get stronger and stronger, and hopefully we will have some great battles with them over the coming years.

“I’ve been watching a lot of university rugby on TV over the past two weeks. There’s a lot of talent and depth in the lower leagues, and the future of South African rugby looks bright.”

READ MORE: Leinster secure top spot despite losing in Cape Town, Sharks win in Durban