LEINSTER coach Leo Cullen has apologised for any offence caused by his suggestion that Glasgow’s players all support Rangers. The former Ireland international made his remarks after his team beat Munster in last week’s PRO14 semi-final, urging Celtic fans to turn out to support his team at Parkhead for tomorrow’s final rather than back the Warriors.
The attempt to bring a footballing rivalry into play was widely condemned, with some thinking it was introducing a sectarian element associated with football. Former Celtic player Jim Craig, for example, dismissed it as “nonsense”.
While appearing surprised by the adverse reaction to what he said, Cullen volunteered his apology before questioning began at this afternoon’s pre-final press conference. “After the game last week, our semi-final, I made a comment that seemed to attract plenty of attention,” he said. “Just so that we’re all aware, it was a throwaway remark, it was made in jest and I didn’t mean to offend anyone. For any individuals that I did offend, I apologise to them.”
Back on track
Having made his point on that subject, Cullen was happy to turn to more customary rugby matters. After suffering the disappointment of losing the Champions Cup final to Saracens a fortnight ago, Leinster returned to winning ways with that home win over Munster last Saturday, and the coach believes the squad are in a good frame of mind as they prepare for the last game in what has been a long and gruelling season. “Everyone has worked hard to get to this point. The season is so unusual, the PRO14 by its very nature, we start in September and you think of the trips we’ve had along the way.
“It started off in Wales, we make our way through the early stages, a trip to South Africa to contend with, you come back and have your Christmas derby games. You have your break for the Six Nations where you play three more games during that window and then for us we’ve been trying to fight on two fronts, which has its challenges.
“We’ve used a lot of players to get to this point, so we get to the end of the season and we need to make sure we stay the course, prepare well, like we’ve tried to do all season. I have to give a huge amount of credit to the players, not just the ones that are named in the 23 this week but all the players.
“We’ve used a huge chunk of players to get us to this point, 57. Glasgow are in a pretty similar situation themselves and we’re two teams that are affected in the most similar fashion in that we lose a lot of players to the national team. That’s such an important part of both clubs’ models that they run.
“We’re delighted to be here. I made my Ireland Schools debut back in 1995 in Glasgow against the Scottish Schoolboys and we have been coming here on a very regular basis to Glasgow with Leinster. To see the progression from Hughenden to Firhill to Scotstoun and to be playing a game here in Celtic Park is amazing to have been part of that progression.
“We’re unbelievably excited. Leinster feel very privileged to be here and we’re looking forward to what will hopefully be a very good encounter between two very, very competitive bunches of players.”
Will Irish eyes be smiling?
The season has been an expensive one for those fans who have followed the Irish side all the way in Europe, culminating in the recent trip to Newcastle for the Champions Cup final. Johnny Sexton, back in the starting line-up after being on the bench last week, acknowledged that the size of the away support might be affected as a result, but insisted that performing in such adverse conditions is something that the best sides must learn.
“We have to try and cherish that, don’t we? I think Saracens are a great example over the years of a team that have thrived in other teams’ back gardens. We need to try and take a little bit of that into tomorrow.
“It’ll be 23 of us against probably 40,000. I don’t know how many Leinster fans will make it over having put their hands in their pockets to come to Newcastle. We probably let them down there a little bit and want to repay them. It’ll be a tough challenge for us, but one we’re looking forward to.”