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Leinster players would have 'no complaints' about Cullen as head coach

Ireland prop Mike Ross says the squad would ‘back him 100%’ to deliver.

WITH LEO CULLEN looking increasingly likely to be confirmed as Leinster’s head coach for the 2015/16 season, experienced tighthead prop Mike Ross says the province’s players would “back him 100%”.

Cullen was promoted from his position as forwards coach on an interim basis following the departure of Matt O’Connor this summer, and has led the province’s pre-season training.

Leo Cullen Cullen was a superb captain for Leinster before retiring. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

A lack of interest in the Leinster job from elsewhere has increasingly convinced the province that Cullen may be the man to lead them for the entire 2015/16 campaign, potentially allowing them to make a stronger appointment next year.

There is of course the possibility that Cullen would be a success as head coach, leaving Leinster with far more options than they currently have.

Indeed, The42 understands that the delay in the formality of announcing Cullen’s permanent deal has been due to IRFU concerns. However, Leinster are likely to continue to push for IRFU performance director David Nucifora to sign off on the appointment.

Tighthead prop Mike Ross, currently preparing for Ireland’s World Cup campaign, says Leinster’s players would be content if the deal is confirmed.

“If he got it, I don’t think there would be any complaints,” said Ross.

It’s probably a bit earlier than even he would have expected but I think he’d be an excellent head coach and he’s got a lot of quality around him to help too, so it wouldn’t just be a one-man band.”

Cullen – heading into his second season as a professional coach – is working alongside a new coaching staff of defence specialist Kurt McQuilkin, scrum coach John Fogarty, academy manager Girvan Dempsey and skills guru Richie Murphy, who is also part of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland backroom team.

Leinster are currently searching for a coach with expertise in attack and backlines to add to their staff, therefore allowing Dempsey to return full-time to his important academy role.

35-year-old Ross played alongside Cullen for five seasons with Leinster, before working under him last season when Cullen was appointed forwards coach.

Mike Ross and Charlie Cooke Mike Ross at Life Style Sports, Grafton Street as they launched the Ireland World Cup jersey. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I think he’ll do well for us,” said Ross. “Its probably sooner than he would have liked but we’d back him 100% that he will deliver. His focus is just raising standards all across the board and making sure we’re going back to what is required with the European Champions Cup and winning the Pro12.

“He’s a very natural leader and (was) a very, very smart player. He was also a tremendously annoying player if you weren’t playing with him. I can remember the Heineken Cup final against Ulster (in 2012) where Leo somehow managed to get up on the wrong side of a ruck with the ball and run off up the pitch!

“There was an invisibility cloak on him sometimes. He’s a great guy to play with, led our lineout superbly and is an all-round decent guy as well.”

New Zealand native McQuilkin, who won five caps for Ireland in the centre, returned to Leinster this summer on a short-term contract.

He is a former Leinster captain and worked as the province’s defence coach when they won the 2009 Heineken Cup under Michael Cheika.

Kurt adds a huge amount of experience,” said Ross of McQuilkin. “I only had him for a year but he was very good. I was on the receiving end of Leinster’s defence during 2009 in the Heineken Cup (when he played for Harlequins).

“So he certainly leads a very tough defence, it’s just very resilient. One thing we do pride ourselves on is our scramble defence so if we are cut open, teams still find it very difficult to score.”

Meanwhile, the much-loved Isa Nacewa is also back in the Leinster set-up and although the province insist his role is only as a player, the influence of the versatile back extends far beyond the pitch.

“He’s a big character, a big influence,” said Ross. “I think he’s one of the players we’ve missed the most over the last couple of years. Even in the depths of February and you’re away to a tough team, you’d be confident that he’d put in a good performance.”

Life Style Sports has announced that, should the Irish rugby team become world champions on 31 October, it will refund anyone who buys the new Irish rugby jersey in Life Style Sports this weekend (24, 25, or 26 July).

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Murray Kinsella

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