Leinster look south for Isa Nacewa successor
LEINSTER will not be held back by IRFU regulations as they pursue a replacement for Isa Nacewa.
The province are in talks with a "handful" of southern hemisphere stars to fill the sizeable space being left by the New Zealander, with Springbok Zane Kirchner, Wallaby Adam Ashley-Cooper and Cheetahs utility back Willie le Roux believed to be among the frontrunners.
The Union's succession policy is supposed to prevent non-Irish players being replaced from outside, but the fact that Nacewa had a year to run on his contract and that no other province had a foreign player in his position means that Leinster can go looking for a big name.
But manager Guy Easterby admitted that the task at hand is about more than filling one position, given the club's other impending departures in Jonny Sexton, Heinke van der Merwe and Andrew Conway, and the question marks surrounding the futures of Brian O'Driscoll, Leo Cullen, Luke Fitzgerald and Dominic Ryan.
O'Driscoll will sit down with Leinster in the coming days to discuss his future, according to Easterby, while deals are on the table for the other three.
While they have the budget and the Union green light to go abroad for Nacewa's replacement and have signed Newcastle's Jimmy Gopperth and Connacht's Mike McCarthy for next season, the squad still looks like entering a transition at the end of the season.
This year's departures will follow a host of big names who have retired or left in the past couple of seasons, and Easterby admitted that the club have a tough task on their hands in keeping their standards up.
"We are continuously striving to move forward, not being happy with where we are, whether that's day to day or week to week, month to month or in my role looking at the bigger picture," he said.
"All I can say is that we are working incredibly hard to keep the place moving forward. I think when we come to announce the signings that we've made for this year, it will paint a really good picture of where we are for the next few years."
Easterby said that no stone was being left unturned to replace Nacewa.
"I can understand that. While Isa has been an absolute legend here – and that's without question, both on and off the pitch – he was not going to be here forever and we were always going to have to replace him," he said.
"We are working our damndest to make sure that we fill that position not only with the highest quality player but also the highest quality person, because you can pick the best player who might not fit into the environment. This is a positive environment and therefore you need to make sure that that continues.
"We're just looking for the best player that fits the profile we are looking for. There are a handful of people we have spoken to but we've done no deals with anyone.
"We're confident we'll be able to announce something in the next couple of weeks."
Nacewa believes that there is enough talent in the Leinster dressing-room to keep standards high.
"I think the beauty of what Leinster have done, even when Michael Cheika was here, is to give guys the opportunity to perform, firstly at Pro12 and, hopefully, that pushes into Heineken Cup," he said.
"You just look at what the (younger) guys have done during the Six Nations; we got 19 out of 20 points with a core group of guys, and it was the same during the World Cup. That will benefit guys in the future and, the more experience they get in the Heineken, the more the team will be on the up."