‘I see it as four head coaches at Leinster’ – Leo Cullen
June 26, 2020 4:59 pm Ryan Corry
Although the title belongs to him, Leo Cullen’s opinion is that Leinster Rugby operates with four head coaches on the team.
Cullen was referring to the community effort involving fellow coaches Stuart Lancaster, Felipe Contepomi and Robin McBryde while also highlighting the technical work done by Hugh Hogan and Emmet Farrell.
Speaking on Guinness PRO14’s Big Interview, he told Sean Holley: “We’re not far off four head coaches really. That’s the way I would see it myself.
“I lean on all the experience the guys bring. We had a big bunch of games where we’re full steam ahead and it’s just important you’re rotating the responsibility around because there’s the management of the group.
“We share it. Stu runs the majority of the team sessions during the week, Felipe and Robin from a unit point of view and just how we see the game then as well and bring all the varying different philosophies together and on we go.
“Hugh Hogan works with a lot of the players in terms of the contact area of the game, Emmet Farrell from a kicking skills point of view as well so there’s a huge amount of work going in to coaching players and making sure they’re ready.”
Delving into further detail on his own coaching education, Cullen discussed how lockdown has allowed him to catch up on some reading material while he also had time to watch the Chicago Bulls documentary that sparked such widespread discussion, The Last Dance.
“We talked actually to the players around it, to see who was most similar to Michael Jordan. You can make your own guesses,” he adds.
“I remember even reading about Phil Jackson years and years ago as a player and about that Chicago Bulls team. I think it was maybe just because of the era I grew up in and that ‘Dream Team’ at the Olympics.
“One of the first sports books I would have read, non-rugby related, was probably Michael Jordan’s book and then later on, I had one of Phil Jackson’s books.
“As a player, I didn’t really quite understand some of the things he talked about in his book at that stage but it sort of makes more sense now when you see the diversity of the characters and having a slightly better understanding of coaching.”
The head coach also outlined the opportunities he was afforded by other coaches as he started out in the role, starting with Matt O’Connor who brought him into the fold at Leinster, as well as educational visits to the Chiefs in New Zealand and Michael Cheika in Australia.
“You’ve got to expose yourself to as much as you possibly can. The beauty of this period again is people being open and willing to share what they’ve seen.
“There’s pure coaching but then there’s the managing of an environment as well, the organisation piece and how that all fits together.
“Matt O’Connor, in his first year it was going to be my last year playing and Jono Gibbes was moving to go to Clermont so there was a space for me and Matt took me on.
“One of the reasons I went to the Chiefs was Wayne Smith. He was somebody I admired from a distance but wasn’t really too sure how that actually fitted together. What was he coaching? And what does that look like to get a product? Because we all get to see the product of the teams, we don’t get to see how the magic is created so to speak.
“Dave Rennie was very kind in terms of letting me into the environment back then and just to see that dynamic again.
“Another environment as well, Michael Cheika, he had me down in Australia on a different trip and showed me around, some of the rugby league teams even.
“Some of the coaches, Trent Robinson in the Roosters there, he’s still doing amazing work and seeing him and the different styles and personalities, what works and what doesn’t work. It gets you closer to formulating your own vision for the team that you’re involved in.”
With the squad returning to HQ this week to begin training in small groups ahead of a proposed return on August 22, Cullen is optimistic about getting back to business.
However, the priority remains keeping all players and staff safe.
“Not getting too far ahead of ourselves is the important piece at the moment but when we get ready to start playing games, it’s important that we are ready because it’s going to get into the serious stuff pretty quickly.
“But hopefully we get through this first phase and I would think it’s baby steps initially.”