Sunday 20 January 2019

Rúaidhrí O'Connor: 'Ball in Andy Farrell's court as Stuart Lancaster leaves room for negotiation on Ireland'

Talking points

Lancaster: ‘Very happy’ at Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Lancaster: ‘Very happy’ at Leinster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

Stuart Lancaster was word-perfect as he delivered his views at Leinster's press briefing yesterday, keeping on message as he moved from room to room to take questions from the different sectors of the national media who had gathered to hear from him.

He has had two weeks to think about his words since the news broke of Joe Schmidt's departure and he chose them carefully.

In the past fortnight he has been linked with Ireland, Bath and his old job with England, but he reckoned people have been putting "two and two together and making five".

Before Leinster fans breathe a sigh of relief about retaining their influential senior coach, they should consider his carefully-worded follow-up. To sum up: the former England coach said he is "very happy" at Leinster and while his commute from Cumbria is not ideal, it is manageable. He is enjoying the work; particularly the day-to-day nature of the gig and the chance to work with younger players.

And yet, the contract he has been offered to continue in the role beyond the end of the season remains unsigned. "We'll see how it all plays out," he said.

There have been no approaches, nor has he been proffering his CV around Europe and beyond but there is a loose plan to meet up with his old friend Andy Farrell, who just happens to be the next Ireland coach who is in need of someone to guide his attack.

He spoke warmly of Farrell, but was much cooler on the recent comments from England's RFU boss Nigel Melville who mentioned Lancaster as one of the contenders to replace Eddie Jones.

For all that Bath have been mentioned as an option, the sense is that if Lanacaster is to continue with a club it will be with Leinster.

Lancaster is Farrell's old boss with England, but titles have gone out the window to such an extent at Leinster that you wonder if they'd matter with Ireland either.

The future Ireland coach, who will be the current assistant coach until the end of Ireland's World Cup campaign in Japan, has a proven working relationship with Lancaster who has shown in two-and-a-half seasons at the European champions that he still has plenty to offer.

"Our relationship has always been good. I mean he lives about 10 minutes away," Lancaster said yesterday.

"We've spoke consistently since I've been at Leinster. We spoke consistently when I left England. I will catch up with him again at some point soon, I'm sure.

"The reality is that he's got until January 2020 to decide, hasn't he?

"There's still the Six Nations and the small matter of a World Cup to go with Joe in charge. Andy will have to time to shape and decide what he wants to do over the course of the next six to 12 months."

The reality is that Farrell can't really afford to wait a year to pick his backroom team and given their prudent forward planning it is unlikely that David Nucifora and the IRFU would leave it that late.

The end of a World Cup cycle is a major moving point in the global game as coaches and players choose to move on and positions become available.

Now is the time to be making approaches and, if reuniting with Lancaster is on Farrell's agenda, then he'll need to get in before his old colleague pens a contract extension.

If it comes to pass that Lancaster leaves, then Leinster will need the time to find a replacement or restructure their coaching ticket accordingly.

Finding someone of the Englishman's considerable talent and experience to work as a senior coach under Leo Cullen won't be easy.

Apart from a few pre-prepared quotes in the press-release that announced his appointment, Farrell has not made a public comment about his plans and could well be scouring the globe for an experienced figure a lá Wayne Smith or a progressive guru like Tony Browne or Jason Holland to bulk up his backroom team.

The answer, however, can sometimes be under your nose.

Leo Cullen is hopeful of retaining Lancaster and the man himself is content in the role.

If there is an untapped desire to get back to a World Cup and prove a point alongside a man who shipped his fair share of the blame in 2015, then Ireland will be a live contender.

Farrell will find out if he asks the question.

Irish Independent

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