Leo Cullen may well be Leinster’s forwards coach in waiting but no one was willing to confirm as much yesterday as rumours linking the club to Kiwi hooker Quentin MacDonald met with the same non-committal stone wall.
“No comment,” was coach Matt O’Connor’s reply to both enquiries, his words adorned with nothing more than a wry grin, though the Australian head coach did promise an announcement next month.
Cullen is the obvious choice to take over from Jono Gibbes who is departing for a similar role with Clermont Auvergne after five productive seasons with the Irish province, but not before wrapping up matters in Dublin.
Right now, Gibbes is worryingly short at hooker given Richardt Strauss’ ongoing absence after heart surgery and MacDonald, a 25-year old with the Bulls who is described as a solid scrummager and pinpoint dart merchant, is believed to be the man who will fill that gap.
Work permit issues have seen the signing process drag on longer than anticipated but Leinster are not new to the vagaries that can delay the arrival and utilisation of a foreign signing given the sparse nature of Zane Kirchner’s involvement this season.
The Springbok utility back didn’t make his bow in blue until late October due to international duties which disrupted his maiden season yet again come November. To date, he has played just eight games and started three.
Kirchner said: “With the autumn internationals going on in November after I had just moved over, I was here for a month and then left again,” he said. “It was a bit of a hiccup, a disruption, but I have total focus currently and I will take it from here.”
His workload is liable to increase significantly from here on in, with Leinster’s glut of Ireland internationals in camp with Joe Schmidt for a few days this week and the Six Nations then set to similarly decimate the roster for the bones of two months.
Kirchner, who played the 80 minutes of Leinster’s defeat against Edinburgh in Murrayfield last weekend, will likely play a significant part this Saturday when Ulster visit a sold-out RDS for their usual Christmas derby and among the visitors will be Ruan Pienaar, who the Western Cape man sounded out before making the switch to Ireland.
So, why Leinster?
“Leinster speaks for itself. The quality of guys, the quality of the team. The achievements they have had over the years, it is something new, a different challenge. You can always do better as a professional sportsman. I had my time back at home and now it is time to build some new things.”
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