O'Sullivan quits to seal dramatic fall from grace

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The Independent Online

Eddie O'Sullivan last night resigned from his post as Ireland coach. The 49-year-old, who took up the role in 2001, was under pressure after Ireland went out of last autumn's World Cup at the group stage and then could only finish a poor fourth in the Six Nations.

O'Sullivan said in a statement: "At the conclusion of the Six Nations championship, and having given my role as national team head coach much consideration, I have come to the decision to step down."

It completes a dramatic turnaround for O'Sullivan, who had been tipped as the next coach of the British and Irish Lions. But after narrowly missing out on the Six Nations crown last season, Ireland's fortunes plummeted as they went from potential World Cup winners to first-round losers. Last Saturday's 33-10 defeat by England sealed a miserable Six Nations for Ireland and signalled the end for O'Sullivan.

His statement continued: "In doing so I would like to thank my management team and all the players that I have worked with during my tenure as Irish coach. Their commitment and professionalism in representing their country has been consummate throughout. I would also like to thank the IRFU for their unwavering support of me as coach to the team. In addition, I would like to thank the Irish rugby supporters who have played a huge role in driving the team on to some outstanding performances in recent years."

Declan Kidney, the Munster coach, is the early favourite to succeed O'Sullivan. The former school teacher's record with Munster – topped by their 2006 Heineken Cup crown – stands up to scrutiny, and if the IRFU is to opt for an Irishman he would be the obvious choice.

But he left Leinster in acrimonious circumstances after failing to convince some of the province's Test stars, and it remains to be seen whether his approach with Munster would translate successfully to Ireland.

Jake White, the mastermind of South Africa's World Cup triumph last autumn, may well have his sights set elsewhere, while another who is likely to come into consideration is Alan Gaffney, Saracens' departing director of rugby.