Ireland v Russia, Rugby World Cup, September 25
Cullen outlines high expectations
September 23, 2011
Cullen will lead out Ireland against Russia © Getty Images
Ireland skipper Leo Cullen has called for his side to match the same standard set during their win over Australia despite featuring in a team void of certain key players.
The Irish take on Russia - on paper their easiest opponents in the World Cup group phase - at Rotorua International Stadium early on Sunday morning. Front line internationals Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Donncha O'Callaghan, Jamie Heaslip, Keith Earls and Sean O'Brien are in action, but the remainder of the side are on the fringes of the first XV. Cullen will be making his World Cup debut on his 32nd cap and is determined to make it a memorable occasion by building on the team's heroics against the Wallabies.
"It has been a long time coming. I've sat back and watched plenty of World Cup games over the years," said the Leinster second-row. "To finally get the opportunity to play is a special moment for me.
"Everyone wants to play and most of the lads will be playing regularly at their province, so being a squad player is a difficult role. But what's best for the squad is what's best for the team.
"There has been a really good atmosphere all the way through, even during August when we were losing (in the warm-up matches). Everyone stayed tight. Now we're starting to build momentum and we must push on. There's no point Australia being the end of our journey, we've still got a long way to go in this tournament - we hope.
"After the Australia game there was a real buzz in the camp and there's a massive responsibility on us to carry on the momentum that we have. We've been training hard over the last few months and we've all been looking for a chance to play.
"For some of us that first chance comes on Sunday. We're champing at the bit to get out there."
Cullen was in action on the only previous occasion the Pool C rivals have met. In 2002 Ireland travelled to Krasnoyarsk for a 2003 World Cup qualifier and emerged with a 35-3 victory. "I remember it was my third cap and I came off the bench for the last 20 minutes," said Cullen. "It was quite a trek to get there in the first place. It was a five-hour flight from Moscow. It was tough and a very physical game.
"There was a very vocal crowd. We only had three or four supporters there and my old man was one of them! He's in New Zealand for the game this week. We got a decent result in the end but it was hard work."
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