Jobs for the Goys

Leinster have named Leo Cullen as their new head coach today, in a move that will surprise exactly nobody, having been leaked and rumoured since Matt O’Connor bit the dust at the end of last season. What is surprising is the following nugget reported by Murray Kinsella this morning:

It’s understood that Leinster had moved to make Cullen permanent head coach, before IRFU performance director David Nucifora expressed his concerns.

What? Leinster are appointing an insider over the objections of the Union’s Performance Director? Now, we don’t know what those objections might be (coaching qualifications and experience, or something more benign) but that’s strange. Remember that part of Nucifora’s role is to “ensure that both playing and coaching talent is developed to provide a prosperous long-term future for the provincial and national teams”. It also raises another question – this has been rumoured for months, so Nucifora has had plenty of time to object.

As it stands, Cullen has a worryingly low amount of experience to take over as head coach of one of Europe’s top teams (at least in ambition) – he retired after winning the 2013-14 Pro12 and has one (disappointing) season as forwards coach behind him. By contrast, when Axel got the Munster job, he had retired six years previously (putting significant distance between himself and the then playing corps) and had the following experience:

  • 2 years as Munster A coach
  • 3 years as Munster forwards coach
  • 2 games as Irish Wolfhounds coach
  • 1 Six Nations as Ireland forwards coach

Even then, plenty of fans, Munster and otherwise, expressed the view that Axel was a bit raw for the job – and his all-Munster (© every piece Gerry wrote last season) coaching ticket certainly didn’t add any experience. At least Cullen hasn’t that problem, with Kurt McQuilkin and Richie Murphy in his backroom staff, alongside Girv the Swerve and John Fogs.

Leinster have had a decade of coaching stability due to an in-depth and considered appointment process – Cheika and Schmidt were huge successes and while O’Connor was something of a disaster, the process by which he was selected and appointed wasn’t to blame – it just didn’t work out.

Now, Cullen is a Leinster legend and a great guy, but if the likes of Nucifora are advocating appointing someone else, presumably a Penney-esque figure for him to serve under for a few years, it is not exactly the sort of all-encompassing endorsement that the Leinster branch would be looking for.  Presumably, Nucifora has been appeased, at least in so far as he can be.  Indications from earlier this summer are that Leinster did indeed cast the net wider in order to attract experienced coaches, but found the response to be less than overwhelming.  It’s a case of going with what appears to be the best available solution.

It calls into question just how attractive the provincial jobs are seen by for’d’ners.  To our own ferverishly passionate eyes, all we can see are the world class players, rousing rivalries with neighbouring provionces, stadia full of well-heeled fans and traditions of sporting excellence, but against that must be considered the high expectations, limited access to the best players and perhaps an increasing sense that the primary function is to serve the national team.  To an extent there appears to have been a sea change; Munster and Leinster now both boast indiginous head coaches, while Neil Doak oversaw Ulster’s bid for glory this season.  But is it that the Antipodean coaches of whom we appear to have been so fond are now out of vogue, or simply aren’t that interested any more?

When Jonny Wilkinson retired from playing, at the same time Cullen did, he moved into a coaching role with Toulon (he is a “specialist skills mentor” – whatever that is). It was acknowledged that, like Cullen, he has always been a leader and has performed a pseudo-coaching role most of his career. But no-one in their right minds considered appointing him as head coach after one season – because that would be fraught with risk in a sport where sustained success is not guaranteed. Leinster have been left with  little choice but to do just that.

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  1. ORiordan

     /  August 19, 2015

    Maybe the Nucifora doesn’t have the time to worry about what is going on in the provinces as he is trying to get the Ireland 7s program up and running…

  2. D6W

     /  August 19, 2015

    Maybe the IRFU have decided it is time to cash in on the lessons learnt observing all the Antipodean coaches that have been plying their trade here in recent years. Either way, fingers crossed for Leo. At least the bar is set pretty low for him to improve on last year.

    • SportingBench

       /  August 19, 2015

      I don’t think the bar has been set that low. Leinster qualified for European competition easily enough.
      A 6 and out in Europe followed by missing qualification next year would be much worse and easily imaginable given how the team ended the season. If this appointment goes wrong it is scary to think that the MO’C years might be looked on as part of the golden era.

      • D6W

         /  August 19, 2015

        At the risk of coming over all “Leinstertainment”, I disagree that we qualified easily enough. We were lucky to make 5th place in Pro12, which left us in the 3rd place bowl for the EERC draw.
        The scenario you paint should be beaten considering the resources Leo has at his disposal, and is the least we could expect.

  3. One thing that makes no sense to me (other than the man himself not accepting an offer, which would seem a bit mad) is why/how Leo has leapfrogged Girve to the head coaching position, interim or otherwise.

    My understanding is that Girve has been working away on the Academy and coaching the A team and has significantly more work under his belt than Cullen’s one underwhelming season coaching the forwards.

    I get that Leo is some Ultimate Leader Of Men or whatever, but if I were a Leinster fan I’d be worried that given his track record with the forwards last season, along with the extra responsibilities of the top job, he’ll struggle to keep up.

    • connachtexile

       /  August 19, 2015

      I agree with you Tran. Dempsey has done his apprenticeship and being quite successful at it. If I was Girve I would have quit Leinster as soon as Cullen was given the job ahead of him. I think fans would have being a lot happier too if Dempsey had gotten it ahead of Cullen.
      I wonder to an extent how much Cullen has being tainted with the mark of MOC? I also don’t understand why they gave him a two year contract. Surely a year would have being enough? I know a lot of Leinster fans who are quite nervous about this season. And after the players bleating on about how they loved MOC so much I doubt having any of them saying what a great job he’s doing is going to comfort them.

    • Billy

       /  August 19, 2015

      I’m not sure where the support for Girv really came from. Being honest, the B&I Cup is a bit of a joke. Evidently the English clubs don’t really care about it – you never see English clubs vying for promotion ever push for it. Leinster fielded very strong teams in the past, including current Irish internationals so is it any surprise if Leinster did win it back-to-back? It was notable that this year when we did field a more academy-based side we struggled. Perhaps some evidence for Jennings’ claims of complacency among younger players there?

      Also, it’s hardly a team Girv moulded. Philosophy, selection and playing style will ultimately be dictated by the head coach so really I don’t know how much credit Girv deserves? People seem to talk about him like he’s Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

      • Girnve was name-checked – “superb” the actual term used – by Joe in the very same press conference, in which Ireland head coach forcefully rebutted his the Leinster colleague’s complaints about lack of access to players during the international windows. He also helped run a handy looking Emerging Ireland team in Georgia during the summer.

        • Yeah that was when o’connor was toast. Just a matter of when after that. And I think frankly Schmidt was 100% right to do it. I actually backed Dempsey to get the top gig on the basis of that press conference (although thankfully I split it on Leo too 🙂 ) so that is where at least some of it comes from. I happen to think the post is a dream gig right now, am surprised more outsiders


          were not making an obvious play for it, but if the problem was working along with Schmidt/nucifora….if they aren’t strong enough or professional enough to face that, I don’t think it’s particularly Leinster’s loss. The timing is tricky so in a World Cup year having people who know the lie of the land with players and structures is no bad arrangement.

  4. It smacks a little of being forced on Leinster. I’d imagine that a lot of the coaches Leinster were looking at are keeping their options open until after the post World Cup fall out has died down. Rather than face a season under a caretaker coach with all the negative connotations that come with that title they appoint Cullen head coach. My betting is this is a two year deal in the same way MOC had a three year deal I.e. One year with a one year extension. I’m not overly happy with it to be honest. I didn’t feel he performed that well as forwards coach last year and if we had to go internal then Dempsey has more experience and a little more distance form the squad. Cul lens appointment could well be down to the fact that as you mentioned he is seen as a leader. Either way it’s done now so we can concentrate on the new season. Good luck to Leo and the management team.

  5. Gareth

     /  August 19, 2015

    Leinster will not win in Europe with Leo as head coach. I hope I’m wrong but….
    The tide really has turned to the national team at the expense of the provinces in the last couple of years. It is obviously more difficult to attract star players and coaches when all the big money is in France but this appointment doesn’t really look ambitious for a team who are trying to get back to the top in Europe.
    ROG has the right idea gaining valuable experience elsewhere.

  6. I too wonder about Leo leapfrogging Girve, who has done fantastically as academy coach. If foreign coaches can’t see the value of the Leinster ticket, then that’s their problem. Maybe it’s the prospect of working in Joe’s shadow – which did for MO’C – which is putting them off. At any rate all the steps that have been carried out since May: getting rid of O’Connor early – which in my opinion was absolutely the right call -, stacking the coaching ticket with Leinster stalwarts, while at every occasion referring to our squad and academy strength, give me grounds for confidence.

    As regards Leo being a rookie coach, let me point out something. When the DFB appointed Franz Beckenbauer coach of the German soccer team in 1984 he not only didn’t have any coaching experience, he didn’t even have a coaching licence. So according to the rules, he should have never been given the job. Two years later under Beckenbauer Germany reached the WC semifinals; 1990 they won it. Leo Cullen is similarly an exceptional talent. According to Bernard Jackman in his recent Off the Ball interview Leo’s fortes are man management and leadership. These are the most important abilities a head coach must have. The technical stuff Girve, Richie Murphy, John Fogarty and Kurt McQuilkin can take care of. Leo has been able to learn from the grandmasters Cheika and Schmidt, how to go about the business of head coach, and from MO’C how not to. I would hope, that by the time the end of season rolls around that the Beckenbauer comparison will have proved applicable. An Laighean abú!!!!!

    • Donal

       /  August 19, 2015

      I don’t really think Girve is any more suited than Leo. Coaching A and the academy has none of the pressure of coaching Leinster. I have often heard rumblings that Girve’s performance was less than stellar. Leinster A’s are generally overpowered in the competitions they play in due to the strength of the schools system.

      I really think Leinster needed a new coaching direction and I don’t see Leo providing that but I hope I am wrong. With all the effort and money to keep our top talent here and bring Johnny home it would be a shame to see us play the Leicster-esque rugby we saw the last 2 years.

      The savaging that Mat took and the way he was let go may have scared off some potentials.

      I would have gone with Ruddock for coach if he could be convinced to take it. Him or an SCT coach if you couldn’t attract a mainstay foreign coach.

      Not hopeful for the new season but maybe he will prove to have more up his sleeve. The lineout and scrum did improve as the season progressed.

    • @CompleteBore

       /  August 19, 2015

      Regarding Beckenbauer, there are many failures when players try to drop straight into high level management without a decent apprenticeship. At its best its Liverpool’s boot room from the 70s & 80s. At its worst is Shearer at Newcastle or Staunton with Ireland (shudder). These decisions can work, but they’re risky and hard to stand over when they fail.

      • No question. Fingers crossed so!!!!

        • I had serious reservations after the interview with Jackman, he seemed to be doing everything in his power to convince himself that his friend was right for the job. The head coach might ultimately make the final decision but its up to the forwards coach to convince the head that decisions regarding the lineout etc are the right strategy. And even then if the forwards coach is given a job to do by the head coach its up to him to figure out how to make it work! So the idea that Cullen was undermined by MOC seems like classic scapegoating to me. Its an exciting time for non-Leinster fans!

    • Beckenbauer is in the top 10 footballers of all time, while Leo is many things he is not in the top 1,000 or even 10,000 rugby players of all time and the comparison is mental. It shows you know very little about either sport but that’s why sport is so entertaining and loved, that everyone is entitled their own option no matter how far a stretch it is.
      I think better / closer comparison would be Martin Johnson and Cullen but lets hope there is a different outcome.
      With so many Leinster players in the Ireland team / squad it would of been an even tougher job for someone coming in from the outside with only half a first team squad available till November and beyond. I think Cullen is the right choice in a world cup year but will he be good enough to win a H-cup probably not, nor would 95% of coaches out there either tho.
      With most Leinster fans expecting a H-cup semi and a Pro final as a minimum and all depending how well we do in the World Cup it could be 2016 before Leinster can pick a full strength team.
      It will be a very tough start for him and with Leinster fans ( some ) lack of patience, high expectations and demands for winning attractive rugby it will be interesting to see what happens if he looses 3 out of 5 an the rugby is poor. Lets hope he can bring through the young talented players in the academy.
      Leo unfortunately could be a stop gap and after the world cup and the coaching merry go round starts Leinster could have a new coach this time next year with Leo as number 2 or shown the door. He could find himself in France of even Leicester.

  7. Roundy

     /  August 19, 2015

    Not overly excited about this appointment but anything is better than last season. MOC had to go and although it was not an ideal time to be looking for a coach the decision had to be made. Now we got Leo as head coach and I hope it works out for him. I am excited about the Girve and McQuilken appointments and hope Foggy has a better season as forwards coach than Leo had last season. Would expect us to be in the mix for the Pro 12 come the end of the season but doubt this coaching ticket has the wherewithall to go the distance in europe. So for me in Leo’s first season as boss an early exit from the Heineken would not be a disaster if we are motoring in the Pro12. With our academy and a’s we should hit the ground running come league kick off. Good luck to all concerned and for the first time in over a year I am looking forward to going to the RDS again.

  8. Yossarian

     /  August 19, 2015

    Don’t understand people calling for Girve. B&I cup is not exactly a top competition to win and I don’t think looking after the academy prepares you for the day to day running of a full squad of internationals with egos to manage etc.
    Some of girvans academy selections have been questionable. Brewer couldn’t make 20’s and we haven’t seen the progress from academy to full team in recent years. A lot of that was blamed on MOC but blame could equally be attributed to the prep they were getting in the academy(purely speculating)
    A lack of candidates seems to be the main motivating factor behind Leo’s appointment. An up and coming AIL or schools coach might have been worth a punt in the circumstances. Kelvin Leahy at Michaels a couple of seasons back or McNamara at clongowes had teams playing a nice brand of rugby and operate at a fairly professional level. Would have been a risk but Leo ain’t exactly the safe bet.

  9. jacothelad

     /  August 19, 2015

    It would be unfair to judge any Leinster coach if the incoming season goes badly. No top players until November then lost again in February to almost April for the 6Ns. Chances are, Leinster will have a hill to climb in the league at least. If they also struggle in the Superduper rigged-for-English-to-win-it Cup then things might get fraught.

    • SportingBench

       /  August 20, 2015

      All the top sides will have the same problem with the WC so while it is a factor it isn’t as big a factor as to be unfair to judge a coach

  10. Seiko

     /  August 19, 2015

    I heard the delay was of Leo’s making. Nucifora wanted him to take a 1 year contract and Leo dug his heels in for a 2 year deal (and rightly so).

    I think the real problem recruiting an outside coach was possibly the control that Nucifora seems to have – that and his reputation as being recruited as a hatchet man. Robbie Deans didn’t think much of him either (dissed him in his book as an empire builder when with Australia – really amusing when the press were linking Robbie Deans with Leinster!)

    Schmidt didn’t help either with him calling a press conference to publicly admonish MOC for his comments about playing staff being absent because of Ireland. Schmidt seems to clear Leinster out regularly for camp Ireland (including coaching staff) which would be very frustrating for any head coach of Leinster.

    Best of luck to Leo. I hope he succeeds because it would be really great if indigenous coaches got a bit more of a chance.

  11. Mary Hinge

     /  August 19, 2015

    Eddie O’Sullivan anyone?
    Only joking goys!

  12. Trouble

     /  August 19, 2015

    Girve only getsa short term deal as backscoach until Murphy is back?
    does thismean hehad something else lined up?

  13. toro toro

     /  August 19, 2015

    Wait, are (some) people saying he’s a big risk and unproven… so we should drop a school’s coach straight into the top job instead?

    As to expectations, it’ll be all about the Pro12 this year. We’ve an absolute pig of a group, with three of the top four-spending teams in the world. Only Clermont are missing. There will be absolutely no shame in “six and out” this season; anything more is a bonus.

    The key thing this year is doing well enough in the Pro12 to seed much higher in Europe for 2016-7.

    • Yossarian

       /  August 19, 2015

      The point about the schools coach is that Leo is arguably less qualified than someone who coaches at schools level. Not that one should necessarily be appointed. Kelvin leahy for example is a capped international as well as having years of hands on coaching under his belt. Joe Schmidt and Grahame Henry started out in the schools game (as well as kidney)
      Leo has one year as a forwards coach and maybe some creative thinking was needed at board level and not just acept Leo was the only option available when brown said no.
      Coaching is very different to playing and there are plenty of examples of great players not making great coaches.

      • toro toro

         /  August 20, 2015

        There’s starting out in schools coaching, and there’s going straight from there to what purports to be one of the top jobs in the European game.

        “Arguably” is one of those weasel-words, isn’t it? Neil Best is arguably a better flanker than Richie McCaw. Of course he isn’t, but you could argue that he was if you were completely mental. There’s a world of difference between coaching hundred-capped professionals and coaching sixteen year-olds you can send to detention. Of course many of the skills are transferable, and one can be an important step on the ladder to the other. But the thing about ladders is the steps in between.

  14. Bushmills

     /  August 19, 2015

    Wasn’t Martin Johnson the last totemic second row turned coach overnight? Remind me how that worked out again?

    • To be fair, Johno retired, didn’t coach any teams, and then suddenly was England Head Coach. At least Leo has a year’s experience under his belt, even if it was underwhelming.

      • Yeah I don’t see the comparison as being equal at all. Some of the best players don’t necessarily make good coaches/managers-they often just can’t get their heads round how people don’t find this stuff easy. Like, I’m not sure you’d hear joe Schmidt advocating this:

        That said, it’s hardly a disadvantage to be a good player either, or to have shown yourself to be a smart player. The way Cullen rucked illegally without getting caught for years (I jest) suggests he is a smart player. Given that he knows the players, ‘culture,’ provincial scene, club, school, academy scene, can potentially work well with the national coaches and not to mention will have a good team to work with….you can’t guarantee qualification etc etc, but i’d say you ultras in the laighin pit will be happier with the fare on show this year.

  15. Leinsterlion

     /  August 19, 2015

    I think once Tony Brown said no thanks, we were down to Leo, no viable names surfaced in the press and no one threw their hat into the arena. He’s clearly not the best/ideal candidate for the reasons outlined by you guys but, the likes of an AIL/schools coach would be equally underwhelming.

    This season should be treated as a trial run for Leo and the backroom staff, aim for Pro 12, sort out the playing style, inject youth into the team and everything else is a bonus. Worst case scenario we have a years youth development exposing young players and we know Leo isnt a HC, still a better result than another season of MOC ball.

    • Nail on the head, LL. And then there’s the best case scenario… To paraphrase Napoleon, don’t give me a good coach, just give one who’s lucky!!!

      • Kevin

         /  August 20, 2015

        I really don’t understand this ‘group of death’ talk surrounding Leinster. Fair enough Toulon are brilliant but does everyone forget a dreadful Leinster side beating Bath, and beating+drawing with Wasps recently? The acquisition of Gopperth, James Downey, and Brendan Macken aren’t going to turn Wasps into a European superpower! Bath are undoubtedly a good side but they haven’t won a Premiership in 20 years and haven’t made it past the quarters in 10. They’re still babies and need a few more learning curves before making the step up imo. Qualifying would be a great achievement considering there’s no Italian or disinterested French sides, (and the other factors that have been discussed at length) but lets be a bit positive and not allow ourselves lap up BT Sport propaganda!

    • osheaf01

       /  August 25, 2015

      Get Deccie Kidney in to help Leo, LL, perhaps with Mick Bradley as well. You know it makes sense…

  16. Kevin

     /  August 20, 2015

    Agreed, and they bought a recent All Black Frank Halai (never saw him but sounds very good), but compare that team to playing against a Leinster 23 that, injury permitting, could hold 21 Irish internationals!

  17. George Smith will fit in well at Wasps
    He’s lost his marbles
    He thinks Fiji are getting out of their group

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