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Leinster 'make progress' on defence coach as Cullen cools Mike Ford link

The Leinster boss reckons eight or nine teams could win the Pro12 this season.

LEO CULLEN SAID Leinster are “making progress” in their search for a defence coach to succeed the outgoing Kurt McQuilkin, but cooled the links with former Bath boss Mike Ford.

The highly-rated and well-respected McQuilkin will return to New Zealand in the coming weeks for personal reasons, leaving Leinster without the most experienced member of their coaching staff.

Leo Cullen Cullen's Leinster are searching for a new defence coach. Source: Ben Whitley/INPHO

Speaking at yesterday’s Guinness Pro12 launch in Dublin, Cullen indicated that the search for McQuilkin’s replacement is ongoing.

50-year-old Ford – who left Bath at the end of last season and has previously worked as Ireland’s defence coach – was linked to Leinster last week, but Cullen said the province is looking elsewhere.

“We’re making progress,” said Cullen. “Kurt is going to be here for a couple of weeks anyway. I’ve been in talks with Kurt over the last weeks and months. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

“Behind the scenes, we’ve had a few different discussions and some of what’s been reported on aren’t necessarily accurate. But we’re working away on somebody not just to fill a gap but really add to the group.

It’s important that when people come in, they can really make a difference. We’ve got a couple of people in mind.”

Cullen also said that McQuilkin’s successor doesn’t need to begin immediately after the former Ireland centre leaves his position.

“Not necessarily, no. We’re happy we’re set up for a period if needs be. We just want to get the right person.”

Despite the loss of McQuilkin and the pressure on Leinster to start moving towards former heights this season, head coach Cullen said he remains “nervously excited every day about doing the job”.

Mike Ford Mike Ford left Bath at the end of last season. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Leinster had a large contingent of their squad at Joe Schmidt’s Ireland camp in Carton House from Sunday to Tuesday this week, although Cullen said some of those players may feature in Leinster’s friendly clash with Bath at Donnybrook on Friday evening.

Other international players will filter back into the Leinster side for the Pro12 opener against Treviso at the RDS on Friday 2 September, as the province attempts to “build momentum” in their season.

Echoing the sentiment of others at the Pro12 launch yesterday, Cullen stated his belief that the race for the Pro12 title is wide open this season.

Definitely at the top of the league, it’s getting very congested,” said the former second row.

“Because of the nature of it, semi-finals and a final, so you think, ‘How many teams can get in the top four? You could probably say eight or nine.

“Then it’s just about two games, there’s a lot on the day. It comes down to on the day. It’s managing injuries, there’s the occasion, some key decisions at times and how players manage the score. I’d say eight or nine.”

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