Belfast Telegraph

Leinster coach Leo Cullen sorry for upset at Rangers jest

 

Apology: Leo Cullen
Apology: Leo Cullen

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster coach Leo Cullen began his trip to Glasgow on the back foot as he apologised for remarks he made associating this evening's Guinness PRO14 final opponents and Rangers, but he's hoping to leave the Scottish city on a high.

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The former second-row inadvertently found himself at the centre of an Old Firm media storm this week when he glibly remarked that "Glasgow rugby players all support Rangers I've been told" and called for Celtic fans to come out and support the Irish province at Parkhead.

The comments were not received well in Scotland and Cullen was blasted by Lisbon Lion Jim Craig, but yesterday he attempted to draw a line under his diplomatic incident by opening his pre-match press conference with an apology.

"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."

Cullen yesterday recalled Johnny Sexton, Scott Fardy and Rob Kearney to his team, but Sean O'Brien has not recovered from a hip issue and, thus, has played his final game a blue jersey.

With Joe Schmidt naming his team on Monday or Tuesday as Ireland's World Cup pre-season gets under way in three weeks' time, it was somewhat worrying to hear Cullen say an update on O'Brien's condition will be provided next week.

The coach said he remains hopeful a deal can be agreed to keep Kearney at his home province.

But for all of the outside noise, Leinster's focus is purely on delivering back-to-back league titles with victory.

And captain Johnny Sexton said the special resonance of Celtic Park would help inspire his team.

"It's up there for us," he said. "There's a big affiliation for Celtic and Ireland, and a lot of us would have grown up watching games here and dreaming to play here, and it's great to get the chance to do it. Once in a lifetime, I think."

Sexton wants his side to learn the lessons of their Champions Cup final defeat to Saracens a fortnight ago.

"There was so many learnings from the game that we took, we'd love to go back and play the game again," he said.

"The five minutes before half-time, the 10 minutes after, you'd love to have it back, take a couple of opportunities and maybe take a couple of different decisions, but you don't get that chance.

"But we do have another final and we spoke last week about making sure we put in the best performance to get us to another final so we could try and right the wrongs from the Saracens game, but it came down to some small margins and then some big decisions. I'm sure tomorrow will be the same, so we just have to make sure that we are on the right side of those decisions and we take our chances."

• Ulster second row Ian Nagle will join Italian side Zebre for next season.

The 30-year-old lock won 11 caps with Ulster after moving from Leinster on a loan deal in November.

Nagle, who made his professional debut with Munster in 2010, will be coached by his fellow Cork native Michael Bradley at Zebre.

"It is a very important time for the future of Italian rugby: Zebra have an ambitious plan, being part of it will give me a special charge," Nagle said.

"I have always been impressed by the great passion of Italian rugby players and fans. The purposeful and attacking game set by the technical staff is certainly very stimulating for every player," he added.

A former Ireland Under 20's and Emerging Ireland international, Nagle graduated from the Munster academy to make over 30 appearances for the southern province before playing for Newcastle and London Irish.

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