Cullen hails Schmidt's 'pursuit of excellence'
May 20, 2012
Leinster boss Joe Schmidt is widely regarded as one of the finest coaches in the game © Getty Images
Leinster captain Leo Cullen has pinpointed coach Joe Schmidt's "relentless pursuit of excellence" as a driving force behind their ascent to greatness.
The dominant Irish province wrapped up their third Heineken Cup crown in four years with a 42-14 hammering of Ulster at Twickenham on Saturday and set records for the biggest winning margin in a final, the most tries (5) and the most points in the process.
Victory over the Ospreys in next Sunday's RaboDirect PRO12 final would see Leinster land the first European and domestic double by any team since Wasps in 2004. And New Zealander Schmidt, who is making a powerful case to be part of the British and Irish Lions coaching team in Australia next year, has now masterminded two successful Heineken Cup campaigns since moving to Dublin in 2010.
"Joe brings a relentless pursuit of excellence," Cullen said. "He demands high standards, and it is great for the players. All the coaching staff work so hard with this squad.
"Looking back, we won the Celtic League in its first year (2002), and we thought we would push on from that, but we crashed out of Europe pretty embarrassingly on a few occasions.
"In 2007 I couldn't really see how the team was going to be successful in the immediate future. It was just a very disjointed period. But Michael Cheika then came in as coach and changed the mentality. He brought in some quality players and some good young players came through as well. The team was desperate to be successful.
"It wasn't pretty when we won the Heineken Cup in 2009, we sort of fell over the line in the final against Leicester at Murrayfield, but the belief was there and we knew we had to kick on after that."
Schmidt deflected praise on to the players, many of whom had already starting talking about next week's Ospreys challenge before even leaving Twickenham last night. "The players put a lot of energy into it," Schmidt said. "There is a degree of resolve for next week, and when it is coming from the players it makes it easy for me to crack the whip.
"It is an achievement for this group of men. They get on so well together, they are a very tight-knit unit and they are such a coachable group. They really want to try to be the best they can be, and they work really hard to do that. The leadership is superb across the board.
"The players bring a resolve and they unite in that. It does make them very tough to break down for opposition teams. We have got a bit left on our plate, and we will now focus on the final next Sunday and give that our best shot.
"I would like to think we can select from a full squad. No-one pulled up too badly, and we know that anyone who can beat Munster 45-10 - as the Ospreys did in the semi-finals - have to be a very good side."
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