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'It's up to Leinster and Leo to ask for help if they think that’s required'

IRFU performance director David Nucifora indicated that Cullen ‘possibly’ requires experience around him.

DAVID NUCIFORA SAYS the IRFU are willing to offer Leo Cullen and Leinster help if the province believes it is necessary.

Cullen guided Leinster into the Guinness Pro12 final in his first season as head coach but saw his side well beaten by Connacht last weekend, while the eastern province exited the Champions Cup at the pool stages having lost five of their six games.

Leo Cullen Cullen's has just completed his first season in charge of Leinster. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Nucifora yesterday indicated that he believes Cullen has an important role to play moving forward but stressed that the IRFU would be willing to provide aid if Leinster looked to bring a more experienced figure into their set-up.

Munster responded to a poor season under Anthony Foley by hiring Rassie Erasmus as their director of rugby – Foley remains on as part of the staff –  with that move to secure the South African facilitated by Nucifora and the IRFU.

With Pat Lam impressing at Connacht, Les Kiss in control of Ulster and now Erasmus leading Munster, Leinster are the only province without an experienced figure in charge.

The42 understands that Nucifora actually held up Leinster’s appointment of Cullen last summer due to concerns about his inexperience, but with the province struggling to secure a more suitable candidate an agreement was eventually reached.

“I’ve said before that coaching is paramount,” said Nucifora yesterday. “To get our coaching right to maximise the talent we have at our disposal in the playing ranks is huge.

“We’ve worked with all the provinces to put all the structures in place and 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 to Irish rugby as a coach for years to come.

David Nucifora Nucifora took up his IRFU role in 2014. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“If Leo requires any assistance over time he knows he’s only got to ask and we’ll be there to help and give him that assistance.

“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 at times. He is developing and is going to develop into a really important asset for Irish rugby as a coach.

“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.”

Nucifora confirmed that Leinster have made no indication at all that they require help and stated that the IRFU would not be imposing anything on the province.

“Look, we try to leave the provinces to make their own decisions wherever possible,” said Nucifora. “We can advise and discuss and debate with them about what we think would be the best look but ultimately they do make their own decisions.

“They have still got a talented coaching group. They might not be experienced but they’re talented. If they do need help going forward that’s something they’re going to have to come to the realisation of and we’re willing to help and assist around that.”

The relationship between Leinster and Nucifora at present is understood to be rocky, with the province most recently unhappy about the manner of the transfer of exciting backline prospect Cian Kelleher to Connacht.

Cian Kelleher Kelleher is shifting out west next season. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Since his arrival in 2014, Nucifora has been vocal about his desire to see the best young Irish playing talent given as many opportunities as possible and an avoidance of ‘stockpiling’ in any one province.

Leinster had made a verbal agreement with Kelleher about a development contract but he then instead signed for Connacht on a two-year senior deal starting this summer. It is understood the eastern province feel Nucifora facilitated an improper process.

“I don’t really know why they were,” said Nucifora when asked why Leinster had been unhappy. “At the end of the day, Cian made the decision that he wanted to go.

“Cian and his agent and provinces were the ones who dealt with it and I know we got dragged into it, but to be honest I had very little to do with that at all – which is the way it should be.

“At the end of the day, the player makes the decision about where he wants to go. He made his decision and he chose to accept a contract from Connacht, a full provincial contract that he’s decided to take.

“In his eyes, he sees that his best opportunities lie there for the next two years.”

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Murray Kinsella

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