Sunday 17 December 2017

Jamie Heaslip fears timing of Matt O'Connor departure could affect start of season

Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip conceded that the decision to part with Matt O'Connor had come as a surprise to the squad
Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip conceded that the decision to part with Matt O'Connor had come as a surprise to the squad
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip has questioned the timing of province's decision to part company with Matt O'Connor, expressing concern that it will affect their start to next season.

The No 8, who captains Ireland against the Barbarians at Thomond Park tonight, conceded that the decision had come as a surprise to the squad when it was revealed to them last Thursday and is concerned it might leave them short when the campaign kicks off in September.

"Players were a bit surprised, like everyone, that it was done so late in the season, in terms of being able to hit the ground running (in pre-season) in what is a month's time for the club," said Heaslip.

"The Professional Games Board make the call and we're not privy to those decisions. We found out the same time as everyone else and that's it, there is a business side to it. That decision is made and now we have to move forward and find a head coach."

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt distanced himself from the suggestion he was involved in the decision after his public falling-out with O'Connor and insisted he would not play a part in finding his successor.

The New Zealander defended his decision to go public on their dispute over the IRFU player management scheme last month by calling a controversial press conference in which he questioned O'Connor's results as coach.

Matt O'Connor departed from Leinster after a disappointing season
Matt O'Connor departed from Leinster after a disappointing season

"I had a lot of good conversations with Matt and that one that was public. Sure, you want those conversations in-house as often as possible but I don't think it was overly damaging either way," he said.

"People who look from the outside can see we have a set of resources and we need to look after those resources as best we can. Those resources have two masters and there is always going to be a little bit of a contest where and how they are placed."

Schmidt, who had huge success as Leinster head coach before taking the Ireland job, said the role remains hugely attractive but maintained that he will not play a part in selecting the new man, preferring to focus on World Cup preparations.

"I absolutely do," he said when asked if he thought the job remains as attractive as it was when he took over in 2010.

"I certainly enjoyed it from the very start, even though it was daunting at the start and it didn't start well, and I think there is a lot in that job.

"I came into it when we used to have six foreign players and there were another two teams coming into the Pro12 and then went down to five players but we had four more games effectively and it was a balancing act.

"I personally think that the job will be attractive to good coaches.

"I'm not sure how the process is going to take place. That's an autonomous thing that the Leinster game board will undertake. Probably there will be some consultation with (IRFU performance director) David Nucifora but it's outside my remit.

"I'm happy enough just to keep my head down and doing some coaching. I've done a little bit of coaching the last few days."

Irish Independent

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