Wednesday 18 September 2019

IRFU offer to help 'inexperienced' Leo Cullen after tough season

Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

This time last year, Anthony Foley was reflecting on a first season as Munster head coach that saw his side come up well short in Europe and then recover in the Guinness Pro12 only to be out-played in the final.

Twelve months on, the former Heineken Cup-winning captain is no longer in charge of his home province. If Leo Cullen wants to avoid the same fate, he may have to admit he needs help at Leinster.

Like Foley and Munster, Cullen's backroom team is made up entirely of former Leinster players, although defence coach Kurt McQuilkin has vast experience in his native New Zealand and is in his second stint at the province.

The Blues' dreadful performance in Saturday's defeat to Connacht has compounded a disappointing campaign that saw them win just once in the Champions Cup. Cullen pointed to the lack of experience among his young players, but that could equally apply to the men in the coaching booth.

Given the eastern province contribute so many players to the national team at all levels, the IRFU's performance director David Nucifora is watching the situation closely.

He played a big role in recruiting Rassie Erasmus to come in above Foley at Munster and says that he is willing to step in at Leinster if they feel they need more experience in the coaching ranks.

"Coaching is paramount," he said. "To get our coaching right to maximise the (playing) talent we have at our disposal is huge," he said. "We've worked with all the provinces to put all the structures in place, we've got three very experienced coaches in Munster, Ulster and Connacht.

"Leo looks like he stands out because of his inexperience but we've worked with Leinster in putting Leo into the position, he's there now and we think he's going to be a really valuable resource as a coach for years to come.

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"If Leo requires any assistance over time he knows he's only got to ask and we'll help.

"He's doing a good job. It's not easy coming into a head coaching position with such little experience because he is learning on the go and that can be tricky.

"He is developing. Does he need help along the way? Possibly, but that's up to Leinster and Leo to ask for that if they think that's required.

"We try to leave the provinces to make their own decisions wherever possible. We can advise and discuss and debate with them about what we think would be the best, but ultimately they make their own decisions."

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