Former Leinster coach Matt Williams was full of praise for his former player Leo Cullen while talking on OTB AM on Thursday.
Williams was discussing how Leinster might use Jordan Larmour in the wake of his poor performance at fullback against Munster, suggesting that Cullen would do what is best for the player and the team.
“If I know Leo [Cullen] he will stick with Jordan and show faith in him,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone, especially Jordan [Larmour], will be happy with his performance.
“But you have to go back and say that he has played exceptionally well for a very long period of time and we all have bad games.
“I wouldn’t be overly concerned with it.”
Williams believes that Cullen has been the master of making big selection decisions and having them pay off for his side.
“Leo has got his selections absolutely spot on for a couple of years now,” he said.
“He picks a completely different side that goes out against Ulster.
“You look through that side, the youthfulness and the inexperience of that side going up against an Ulster side that have performed very well through the season pre-COVID.
“And yet they come out and they play this wonderful brand of rugby and win brilliantly.
“So, you’ve got to say that Leo knows what he’s doing.”
For their match against Ulster last weekend, Leinster made 15 changes from the side that beat Munster 27-25 a week earlier.
This did not hinder their performance, as they walked away 28-10 victors over the men from Belfast.
This was not the first time that Cullen has made a number of changes heading into a crunch game.
Williams, who coached Cullen in the early 2000s, has seen these big calls throughout the years.
“I try not to be biased, Leo is a guy that I coached, and I have great respect for him as a person and I regard him as a friend,” he said.
“Putting all that aside, I’ve looked at some of his selection decisions and I’ve gone, ‘Wow, that’s a big call!’
“I’ll take you back to the pool games against Northampton, where he selected a side to go away to Franklin Gardens and left out [Tadgh] Furlong, left out so many big names.
“And I went, ‘that’s a huge call,’ but the team come out and perform and smash Northampton away.
“He then makes seven or eight changes, maybe more, to come back to the Aviva, and those guys come out and perform for him.”
Cullen gets players to play for him
The respect for Cullen and the desire to play for him inside the Leinster dressing room is evident to Williams.
“He’s really got that ability to ‘drop’ someone, or not select them, but bring them back a week later and they’re motivated, and they’ll play for him,” Williams said.
“Because they know the competition within the group is so high. There’s two parts to that.
“The Leinster players, when they’re not selected, aren’t putting their tails between their legs, taking their bat and ball and going home.
“They’re responding as a coach wants and saying, ‘Well, I’m going to prove you wrong; I am going to fight for my position when I get a chance.’
“And Leo is a very smart coach, he’s giving those players a second chance.
“They might have to wait a week or two weeks, but he’s doing it.”
Williams see this as the reason that Cullen will and has placed his faith in Larmour at fullback for their Pro14 semi-final against Munster on Friday.
“The fact that there’s a few injuries on the Leinster wing could open the opportunity for Rob [Kearney] to come back,” he said.
“I don’t think that it is a high probability, I think it is a possibility.”
“It is unfortunate for Jordan but as I said, it’s one game. If he does it four games in a row, then we’ve got a problem.
“So, I don’t expect him to do anything that will take away from Jordan Larmour’s confidence.
“[Larmour] is playing really good rugby, he’s developed into a high-quality fullback, that had a bad day.
“I think the way Leo manages the selection of Jordan will bring out the best in him.”