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Leinster coach goes on defensive against league's detractors

By David Kelly

As Sky contemplate withdrawing their services from the Pro12, with viewing figures purportedly plummeting on a weekly basis, a weekend without Champions Cup involvement for its participants has focused many minds.

Connacht and Glasgow aside, the quality of rugby being provided has, it is also charged, proved itself unfit for purpose as the swashbuckling English and French threaten to dominate Europe. And traditional bugbears such as the regular absence of box-office names from competing sides still weigh down the competition, too.

With poor weather forecast for this evening, for the visit of an Edinburgh side who will never be compared to the Harlem Globetrotters, the decision of the Leinster brains trust to allow Jonathan Sexton and Jamie Heaslip a second successive weekend off will rankle with many.

Leinster coach Leo Cullen's responsibility is not to defend the questionable health of the Pro12 but he did so anyway with a round and robust rebuttal of those who continue to decry the perceived poor relation of Europe's big three leagues.

"We've got 15 star players starting," was Cullen's response when asked about the absence of two of Leinster's highest-paid and world-class players.

"That would be my message. This is the best team to represent Leinster this weekend."

While few outside its Celtic/Italian borders will pay much attention about the Pro12 run-in, the Leinster coach is keen to shrug off the public perception of a league that still struggles to capture the imagination.

"It is easy to just knock things," he said. "But there are good things about the league as well.

"The league has got more competitive, you can see there is a lot more excitement about the games coming up this week.

"We are sitting in first, just about, playing against Edinburgh who are pushing to get a European spot. There is a lot of stake in that game.

"There is a lot of hype about Munster who are in sixth playing against Connacht who are in second and everyone knows what's at stake for those two teams.

Then you look at Scarlets who are at home to Glasgow, one sitting fourth and one sitting third, so really exciting match-up. So I would rather talk of the positives of those games rather than talk about the negatives or compare us to other leagues. We could compare ourselves to Super Rugby.

"But why not talk about the positive that there were 43,000 in the Aviva for our last home game? How many teams around the world had 43,000 for their last home game? I wouldn't say there was any and that's an unbelievable positive. I would say it is easy to pick things apart but can we focus on the odd good thing as well?

"Because it is easy to bash the Pro12 standard of this and that but we are making do with what we've got and it is important not to lose sight of some of the really positive things as well.

"The Pro12 doesn't have 100 years of tradition like some of the other leagues so we just have to try and grow it. Maybe in 100 years' time we will be as good as the Top 14 or the Premiership."

Belfast Telegraph


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