Leinster head coach Leo Cullen will have some interesting decisions to make over the coming weeks.
His side have started the new season at a blistering pace – securing three consecutive bonus-point victories leaving them joint top of Conference A on 15 points with the Cheetahs.
Confidence is high at their base in UCD and encouragingly, there have been a number of standout performances from the younger contingent who seem dead-set on laying down a marker early on in the season.
Ireland’s disappointing exit from the World Cup at the hands of a ruthless New Zealand side was the culmination of numerous worrying performances which began during the Six Nations, progressing throughout the summer warm-up series and ultimately, the showpiece event in Japan.
Four years of physical, mental and emotional sacrifice ultimately came to nothing as the most successful Irish side in history failed to get past the quarter-final stage – like so many sides before them.
One of those squads contained Cullen as the Leinster boss saw his and his teammates’ dreams dashed when they lost to Wales in the quarter-final at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington during the 2011 World Cup.
Cullen recalls that experience and how he wanted to get back playing rugby with Leinster immediately in order to help to get over the major disappointment.
“I can speak from my own experience when I was at the World Cup eight years ago in 2011 and we lose a quarter-final against Wales but I wasn’t in the matchday 23 that day,” Cullen said.
“For me, I remember the sensation of being keen to get back involved in the team. If you haven’t played a huge amount, that’s generally the way you are. You want to get back and fight for your place in the group here.”
The first port of call will be to assess the health of the 12 players who will return to Dublin this week (Sean Cronin and Jack Conan are already in Ireland due to their respective injuries) and to give them some time off after what has been an intense period which began in mid-June.
“We’ll lay eyes on them, we’re watching, picking up snippets from far away so it’s hard to make a real informed decision on a lot of them.”
“They’ll have a bit of time off, I think it’s important for them to be able to reconnect with friends and family after being away for so long. Then again, we’ll try to make a plan based on how they are, physically and mentally.”
Ultimately, Cullen won’t know for sure the mental and physical state of his international players until he meets them when they arrive back to Dublin this week.
The difficult decision of when to reintegrate players who have suffered major career disappointment will be made on a case-by-case basis.
However, Cullen is the head coach of one of the best club sides in Europe, a squad who harbour ambitions of securing another double like they did the season before last.
The disappointment his players are currently feeling is just something that they have to get through – there are major goals to be achieved in blue this season.
“Some guys started at the weekend and they’re dealing with all that disappointment themselves because there’s a huge weight of expectation, mainly from the players themselves, when you deal with the disappointment of a tournament you’ve worked so hard towards for such a long period, they’ve got to get through that now.
“If you’re a southern hemisphere team, you go back and you’re off on holidays because it’s the end of the season but if you’re a northern hemisphere team, it’s the start of the season, we’ve played three games. It’s so different and we have a huge season to look forward to, the players have a huge season to look forward to.
“They just need to get back on, it’s like losing a big game in the middle of the season where you might miss out on qualification for Europe. It’s just when you’re on the world stage, it becomes more and more magnified. It’s a period (where) you just have to get through it.”
“Until we talk to the players, it’s hard to make up a plan. We’ll just try to do what’s best for them for the short, medium and longer-term as well.”
Leinster’s Ireland’s contingent will not see game time this weekend or the weekend after but some of them should begin the healing process when the eastern province travel to Connacht on November 8 before the Champions Cup kicks off the following week.