Tuesday 21 November 2017

Leinster hot-seat remains attractive but contenders must know the risks

Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson
Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson and manager Guy Easterby have begun the search for a new coach with Robbie Deans the early favourite to succeed Matt O'Connor.

The New Zealander is currently the coach of Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan and will take charge of the Barbarians team who take on Ireland at Thomond Park next weekend.

Leo Cullen is in temporary charge of a squad who will remain in training until the end of next week as the IRFU look to have all four provinces finish at the same time in order to facilitate pre-World Cup and pre-season training.

However, the forwards coach is not considered to be in the running for the top job, with province's academy manager Girvan Dempsey the leading internal candidate, while former forwards coach Jono Gibbes - currently under contract with Clermont - also under consideration.

Leinster are expected to leave O'Connor's backroom team of Cullen, Marco Caputo and Richie Murphy intact.

The timing of the unexpected announcement leaves the hierarchy scrambling to bring in a coach of appropriate stature, with most club appointments already made and international coaches in situ until after this year's World Cup.

Former Australia coach Deans is a household name with considerable success in Super Rugby behind him, but he has history with IRFU performance director David Nucifora. His fellow former Wallaby supremo Ewen McKenzie is another who would bring a high level of experience and expertise and is currently out of work.

Bernard Jackman, Eddie O'Sullivan and Gregor Townsend's names have also been linked with the newly vacant post, and the relative haste in which O'Connor was dismissed seems unlikely to deter ambitious coaches.

The contenders will be aware of the high expectation that comes with the RDS hot-seat after O'Connor won the Pro12 and reached the European knockout stages twice during his tenure, securing a 66pc win ratio, but was shown the door.

They will know that winning is the bare minimum expected at Leinster - the fan-base want their coach to deliver an attractive style of play even if the majority of the team are away on international duty for long periods.

O'Connor is already being linked with the soon-to-be-vacant Queensland Reds job in his native Australia, while the two men who held the Leinster job previously - Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt - will be among the contenders at this year's World Cup with Australia and Ireland, respectively.

The Leinster job is not an easy one and the structure of the IRFU system can be difficult to work in, but the rewards for a successful, ambitious coach are there for all to see.

The new man will have the World Cup period to get used to his new surrounds in relative calm, before Johnny Sexton and the rest of the Ireland internationals come into the equation. At full strength, Leinster retain one of Europe's strongest squads.

The big job is finding the right fit, and learning from the short-lived O'Connor era is the key. Leinster have dis-improved over this season, arresting the decline is a must.

Irish Independent

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