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Lancaster keeping focus on the bigger picture


PRIORITIES: Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

PRIORITIES: Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

PRIORITIES: Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Stuart Lancaster has things firmly in perspective. He's here to talk about rugby, but the bigger picture is never far from his mind.

So, as we probe for insights into rugby's return, the Leinster senior coach demurs from any big predictions and ensures there is no doubt of the priorities at play - even as he outlines the "baby-steps" professional players need to take to get from quarantine to the pitch.

The former England coach is back in his home in Leeds and while he is keeping in touch with his players, he is keen not to over-do it.

In theory, he could be standing in front of a group of players in three weeks' time if the provinces are given the green light for their planned return to training on May 18.

And yet, even as he contemplates potential Champions Cup matches in October or even a shot at the Lions next year, he returns to the life and death issues that put sport in its place right now.

At one stage he is asked about the difference in approaches between the UK and Irish governments and, while he stayed firmly diplomatic in his answer, he wandered into personal territory as he contemplated the gravity of the situation.

"I was only thinking about it the other day. My dad went into Intensive Care when I was at Leinster and I'll never forget that feeling of having to go and visit him. So, for every one case that's out there it's a tragedy for so many people," he said.

You can understand why he's not too hung up on the game he loves restarting.

"Everyone seems to be centred around October," he said of the Champions Cup.

"I think there are a lot of hurdles to overcome before we even get to that point; training - small group training to larger group training, to proper competitive training, to warm-up games and everything else.

"I would imagine that behind the scenes at World Rugby and the top end of EPCR and the top end of the club game there will be healthy debate about what's happening in that October window.

"We don't know what's going to happen on May 5, never mind the end of October... things change here in the UK on a daily basis. Some days you hear about a reduction in deaths, others it goes up.

"It's hard to get your head around how we're going to go about playing European Cup quarter-finals, semi-finals and finals when there is so much going on in society.


"When the sport emerges, what is going to be each government's policy on cross-border competition? I think it's all going to be government driven and I think there's also a lot of debate to be had at the top of World Rugby."

Thus, Lancaster is staying at home like the rest of us.

He has held coaching seminars for AIL and GAA coaches, while he's in regular contact with Leo Cullen and the rest of the Leinster set-up.

As for the players, they're adopting a relatively light-touch approach.

At one stage, Lancaster compiled a WhatsApp video of the team's big moments this season and areas of opportunity which included a message on thriving in isolation.

"One of the analogies I gave in that video was from Richard Parks, a former Welsh back rower who has done various challenges around the world like walking up Everest," he said. "He has done solo expeditions to the South Pole and he talked about his process of walking on his own in isolation - going through 'storming, norming, and performing'.

"The storming bit is battling on, trying to get going. The norming bit is getting used to it. Then the performing piece is where you're making progress in that goal of walking in isolation to the South Pole. I thought it was a good analogy for the players, who are in that process. I think we all are."

It remains to be seen what effect this stoppage will have on the players. Those in their 30s may see this period as valuable lost time.

However, Lancaster believes the likes of Ireland and Leinster captain Johnny Sexton will use it as an opportunity to prolong their careers.

"I think if you speak to Johnny he'll probably say it's extended his career by another five years!" he said.

"If you manage this period well, you should be able to come back in good shape. I think you should be able to get over any little niggles."

Lancaster says he has not considered being part of Warren Gatland's coaching ticket for next year's Lions tour but admitted it would be a challenge he would relish.

Gatland has yet to announce his backroom team for the tour of South Africa. The New Zealander will have to shake up the coaching team he brought to his homeland three years ago, with Andy Farrell likely to be tied up with Ireland and Rob Howley serving an 18-month ban for breaching betting rules.

"It feels like so far away," said Lancaster. "I think everyone as a coach would ultimately want to test themselves at the highest level, but I've never chatted to anyone about it."