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Cullen on Munster



Interesting article on CC and his thoughts on Munster..


Onward Christian's shoulders


ALL Black legend Christian Cullen begins a belated attempt to influence Munster's season in Llanelli tomorrow. He spoke to Barry Coughlan.

THEY say lightning never strikes twice, but it did for Christian Cullen.

Now, after the storm, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and Cullen will be propelled back into the international arena in a Celtic League tie against Llanelli Scarlets at Stradey Park tomorrow.

Most of the former All Black star's two-and-a-half years in Ireland with Munster has been spent on the treatment table - the result of two shoulder reconstruction operations.

He now hopes an earlier injury-free career is back on the agenda. "I was a bit embarrassed after coming to Munster to spend so much time out of action. I recovered from that first operation, played quite a bit and then did the other shoulder. Overall, I haven't played anywhere as much for the team as I would have liked. It has been frustrating, to say the least," he said.

Cullen, and another Kiwi Mike Mullins, have been added to Munster's Heineken Cup squad after they missed the cut for the original panel due to injury.

Second time around, Cullen at least had the support of his team colleagues.

"The first injury was more difficult to deal with; I was in a different country, didn't have any friends and found myself sidelined.

"The consolation, and it wasn't much consolation, is that when I damaged the other shoulder, I had knitted in with the rest of the players in the squad. There were other guys injured as well, so it made the painful recovery process that much easier."

You sense, however, that Cullen still regrets the drama that followed the second operation.

He didn't make the recovery he planned, and had to go for further corrective surgery which put his recovery period back by up to four months.

These last few weeks have been far better. "I suppose I have been back in contact training for about a month, and it was make or break for me. There was no point holding back, no point in not giving it 100%. I took the hits, put in the tackles and took the falls to put the injury to the test. So far, I have had no problems."

Lack of match-time is, however, a concern for any player returning after injury. Cullen had 60 minutes for Munster A against Leinster, eight days ago, and a 20 minute run for Midleton in a friendly against Cork Con, subsequently, and he realises that is not the perfect preparation for a Heineken Cup comeback.

In any event, he doesn't expect to be handed any special credits. "It's up to Declan [Kidney], but maybe it's up to me to prove myself. I'm not sure that I have had enough time to do that," he said.

Cullen would, however, love to be involved in the quarter-final with Perpignan at Lansdowne Road, next Saturday, recalling the atmosphere in a previous semi-final against Wasps as; "possibly the most emotional, and one of the most exciting days of my career."

Cullen has been around the world with New Zealand and experienced many great days with his country and province in the land of the long white cloud.

"Supporters have a huge role to play, and I remember many great days with the All Blacks when the crowd made the day. The atmosphere at Thomond Park is second to none, but the hair at the back of my neck stands up when I think of Lansdowne Road, and that match against Wasps.

"The atmosphere, from morning was electric; the atmosphere in the ground was something else. I don't think I have ever experienced anything quite like it," he said.

As Cullen reflects on the recent past, and immediate future - you get the feeling he wants to prove a point to everyone in Ireland by staying on after the end of his current contract.

In or out, he believes Munster will beat Perpignan. "You always have to respect a French side, and Perpignan have that type of steely look about them that should make for a really tough game.

"But if the atmosphere is anything like it was against Wasps a couple of years ago, I don't think they will cope."

Although he has viewed a lot of Munster performances from the sidelines, Cullen also believes he has learned a lot about his mates.

"Apart from the fact that this squad is packed with quality players, Munster have an inspirational captain," he said.

Cullen expressed little surprise that Anthony Foley has been to the fore in all but one of Munster's Heineken Cup matches over the last decade.

Foley, in fact, will make his 74th appearance in the competition as Munster contest their 75th.

"I obviously wasn't around for a lot of those games, but it's not a shock to see him so involved for so long. He is a great player, and a great captain.

"In difficult games, you want to see your captain in a leadership role. Nobody could ever accuse Anthony of shirking from that type of challenge.

"I have been involved with a number of teams, worked under some great captains and he's up there with the best."
With the Scarlets game being postponed today it would appear Cullen will most likely only see bench duty against USAP in the Quarter Finals. Interesting to see that he turned out for Middleton, would have been an honour for those lads to play alongside a living legend like him.

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