Gunners are 'back' firing

Edinburgh forwards more aggressive this year: Cullen

Des Berry

LEINSTER captain Leo Cullen was impressed by what coach Michael Bradley did with Edinburgh to reach the Heineken Cup semi-final last season.

HE is even more impressed by the acquisition of another former Leicester Tiger, Neil Back, as their forwards coach for this season.

For some, Back is the man who single-handedly cost Munster the 2002 Heineken Cup by slapping the ball out of the paws of Peter Stringer at an attacking scrum with precious little time on the clock.

For others, he was the most vital cog at openside in the England machine that steamrolled its way to the 2003 World Cup, despite being 5'9" and just over 14 stones.

"He is very sharp around the breakdown. He was at Leicester initially as the defence coach (when I was there), working in conjunction with Paddy Howard. Richard Cockerill was doing the set-piece with the forwards.

"The way Leicester play, the environment he (Back) was immersed in for many years, there is such an emphasis on the set-piece, strong driving mauls.

"Backy has been around. He's been head coach at Leeds Carnegie, spent time in Coventry as head coach (to Rugby Lions). He has plenty of experience, both from a coaching and playing point of view."

Back was not sent to Coventry; he chose to return to the city he was born and schooled in. He played for England U18s and U-21s before moving to Leicester Tigers.

His apprenticeship as a coach was taken at Leicester in the school of hardest knocks. From there, he was cherry-picked to become Leeds' head coach in 2008, losing his job when the club were relegated from the Premiership in 2011.

Back has the forward expertise off the pitch to match the experience on it through Edinburgh's signing of former Free State Cheetahs' prop WP Nel and lock Izak van der Westhuizen, as well as Wales prop John Yapp and big hitting Georgian back row international Dimitri Basilaia.

"I am very impressed by Edinburgh with what I've seen of them so far this season. It is, maybe, a shift in mindset away from how they have traditionally played in the past," added Cullen.

"There is more structure to the way they play now. They want to take teams on physically up front."

This is not to say they are neglecting their trademark attacking style. The forward imports are matched by back signings Richie Rees, a Wales scrum-half, versatile ex-Northampton Saint back Greig Tonks and former Otago Highlander centre Ben Atiga.

Leinster and Edinburgh have started with two wins out of three in the league, Leinster taking the points from the Dragons and Benetton Treviso, while the Scottish club have beaten Cardiff Blues and Italian's Zebre.

The visitors have lost their last eight encounters with Irish provinces and have not won three in a row in the tournament since October 2010.

All in all, Leinster are further down the road of discovery under coach Joe Schmidt than Edinburgh are under former Ireland scrum-half Michael Bradley.

The cobwebs were blown from the closet out in Italy for even the most senior internationals. Jonathan Sexton got them out of a deep hole with a 45-metre drop goal for a 19-18 win.

Schmidt would be eager not to have to go through that again. And Cullen would be equally eager to put one over his old Leicester coach and club colleague.

Verdict: Leinster