Shane Culleton is a 37 year-old scrum-half to three beautiful children, blindside flanker to Sharon, and works as a referee in the classroom in a Dublin secondary school.
Well, the opening rounds of the RaboDirect PRO12 didn’t go according to plan, did they? Unless, of course, the plan was to produce an unpredictable, exciting six weeks of rugby that is! Most Leinster fans, including myself, kind of expected last season’s runners-up to reach the top of the table at the end of Round 1 way back on the first weekend in September and to stay comfortably there all the way through to the Final on the 25th of May 2013. The reality has been so much more exciting though, with genuine edge-of-the-seat tension, high drama, heartbreak and dramatic escapes!
There’s been a fair bit of commentary on how poorly Leinster have started this season. It’s a bit too easy for us to be dismissive and just say, “hey, we don’t do September”. Over the same six week span last year 97 points were scored against us. Sure, we had four wins from six, same as this year, with a total of 124 points scored. This season we’ve scored 142 points, but leaked 159 of them! Maybe Leinster are running a deficit in sympathy with the Irish economy!
Numbers won’t tell us how this year will go, just how this year has gone so far. There’s no number that can be used to measure determination, no way of analysing or quantifying how relentless the Leinster team will be through the long, lonely and cold winter months when they’re pushing themselves on the training ground. There is no formula to explain the incredible ability of Joe Schmidt to balance all the needs of his team with the pressures of competition and to bring the best out of every player who wears the blue. The results might not have been great so far, but the excitement has been!
Biggest surprise so far? How people have worried about Leinster’s poor opening season. Same last year, and the year before. Probably next year too!
Most valuable player so far this season? I’d really have to select Shane Jennings for this. He’s led, he’s scored, but his defensive play has been exceptional. A silent enforcer, quietly but efficiently working and inspiring those around him on the pitch, but apparently very vocal in the changing room. Those are the qualities of a real leader. Hasn’t Sexton been great too? That celebration of his after scoring the drop-goal against Treviso was pure heart. It shows how much he still enjoys the game!
Overall season prediction for your side: I think Leinster had reached the top of the PRO12 table by the end of October last year, then cruised fairly comfortably towards the uncomfortable Final. I’ve no doubt we’ll make the Play-Offs this year, and I’d certainly be expecting a home semi-final. I just don’t think we’ll have that long comfortable cruise in at the top of the table. There will be some tense moments, some scares and worries, but lots of excitement.
Who’s going to win? I’m expecting Ulster, Leinster, Scarlets and Ospreys to make the Play-Offs, and for Leinster to steal a late win in the Final in Ravenhill.