Wednesday 20 November 2019

Brent Pope: My old team-mate Robbie Deans is the ideal replacement for Matt O'Connor

Former Australian head coach Robbie Deans
Former Australian head coach Robbie Deans

Brent Pope

Investors on Wall Street will give you a strategy, "never catch a falling sword", meaning if stocks are dropping fast, then be very wary about entering the market unless you know exactly what is coming down the line?

Unfortunately for ex-Leinster Coach Matt O'Connor he took over a Leinster side that had already achieved so much, and in some ways he had an almost impossible task in filling Joe Schmidt's shoes.

Despite having a world class side at his disposal in some regards O'Connor, in retrospect, was on a hiding to nothing, unless of course he delivered another European Cup - a tall order nowadays given French teams bulging budgets.

That task would, of course, get harder for O'Connor with the departure of iconic players such as Brian O'Driscoll and Ica Nacewa and then Leinster's main playmaker Johnny Sexton departure to France.

But despite that O'Connor still knew the role and knew the expectations, paying the ultimate price for a team high on talent but low on consistency and the Leinster supporters who are more streetwise than most knew that Leinster's dip in form this season meant that the former Leicester Tigers top man was on shaky ground.

It was a difficult decision for Leinster to make, ie to appoint a new coach in a World Cup year when a lot of Leinster's players will be unavailable, and also financially a year before O'Connor's contract was up.

Plenty of names have already been thrown into the Leinster mix from the likes of Bernard Jackman, Eddie O'Sullivan, Girvan Dempsey, Jono Gibbs, Ewan McKenzie and Nick Mallet and many more to come over the next few weeks.

All have their backers, all have serious credentials. But I know my two favourites, and I have a lot to do with both on and off the field.

First up is my television co-pundit Connor O'Shea. O'Shea is tailormade for Leinster. An ex-Irish full-back O'Shea is an articulate, intelligent man and has done a fantastic job at both London Irish and now with Harlequins, but I don't think he will consider it.

I think it is slightly too early in O'Shea's upward trajectory, and with a family and home in London then it would be a huge step at this stage.

O'Shea will be an Irish head coach in waiting but in my opinion not yet.

Bernard Jackman has done exceptionally well in a short time with Grenoble, overseeing a team that consistency boxes above its weight, but like O'Shea I believe that it is a year or two too early for Jackman, the same theory applies to Gibbs, Dempsey, Ronan O'Gara and others.

Why not let them develop their skills for a while before dropping them into the cut throat world of top provincial rugby?

Top rugby can be a virtual graveyard for coaches who don't get it right first time, and they can struggle for years afterwards just ask where the likes of Mike Brewer, Matt Williams and others are now?

Leinster needs a marquee signing, they are one of the elite teams in the world.

So take O'Shea out of the mix for the time being, the other coach that is on the bookies list but surprisingly quite far down the line, is ex-All Black and Australian coach Robbie Deans.

I know Deans well; having played in Canterbury at the same time he did, often playing alongside him and his brother Bruce (once based in Old Belvedere) at provincial level and for the annual North Island v South Island derbies.

What has always impressed me about Deans is that he is very like Schmidt. Deans is an innovative, out of the box rugby thinker. He is media friendly, spends hours analysing opposition, and has a great way with his players.

Deans is also prepared to change the way a team thinks and plays. His work in leading the Canterbury Crusaders to numerous Super Rugby titles while developing some of the world's elite players shows he has the pedigree, to not only be successful but to bring on new talent.

In my opinion he would fit well into the Irish culture, and would bring a fresh new look to a team that clearly needs its batteries recharged.

It is hard not to feel sorry for O'Connor as he departs with unfinished business, and some of the Leinster players must also accept responsibility for Leinster's second season disappointments.

Unfortunately it is the way of modern sport that the buck stops firmly at the coach but that is the nature of the beast, that is what you sign up for.

One can only wish O'Connor and his family well in the future and hope that he reinvents his career with another team, after all every coach despite success will at some stage fail, that's a given, the secret is to get out when the going is good.

A coach is always six inches from a pat on the back or a kick up the backside....


The Left Wing: Champions Cup returns, Jacob Stockdale's development, and Simon Zebo goes back to Munster

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport