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'Its pretty sobering watching tries we conceded'

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Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster is demanding defensive improvements from his side ahead of the new season. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster is demanding defensive improvements from his side ahead of the new season. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster is demanding defensive improvements from his side ahead of the new season. Photo: Sportsfile

Three weeks ago, as the entire Leinster squad reconvened for pre-season training, any of the players who thought the coaches were about to pore over the reasons why they were crowned double champions were in for a rude awakening.

For all that Leinster achieved in what was a stunning season, from a coach's point of view the pursuit of perfection meant that a huge amount of the emphasis was actually put on the shortcomings.

It almost seems unfair to do so, but for an ambitious coaching group coupled with a seriously motivated squad, settling for Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 titles is not part of the mindset.

Dissection

The returning international players were barely in the door at UCD following an extended break, before Stuart Lancaster began his dissection of certain video clips that many players would rather have forgotten about.

The heavy defeat in Galway still lingers for many, as does the shocking home loss to Treviso, yet these are exactly the type of lessons that Lancaster wants his players to learn from as the new season edges closer.

"You don't go looking for problems, because there's always plenty there," Lancaster maintains.

"We didn't win every game by any stretch. We conceded too many tries for my liking, so we had a reasonably tough morning when we actually watched most of them again.

"It's a pretty sobering morning when you're watching the tries you've conceded, so you can soon bring them back down to earth."

The uncomfortable video review session, which is a hallmark of Joe Schmidt's Ireland, will have reminded certain players of the standards that are expected of them.

"It (video review) wasn't quite as… I did say 'well done,'" Lancaster smiles.

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"No, to be fair, when they came back in we very much started with our attack shape and how we are looking to evolve our attack, but there then comes a point when we need to flip our attention to our defence.

"You look at any trends as to why we conceded and where we conceded, times of the game and situations. So I did that analysis and I wanted to remind them of some key things.

"If we can improve in some areas, whether it is lineout defence or edge defence, then we have a better chance of winning more games. Equally, if we can convert in this area we can translate that into more tries."

When he first arrived in Dublin almost two years ago, there was plenty of confusion surrounding Lancaster's exact role as a senior coach.

The former England boss has, however, slotted seamlessly into the set-up and deserves a lot of credit for helping guide Leinster back to where they so desperately wanted to be.

Replacing Kurt McQuilkin as defence coach, Lancaster's remit has stretched far beyond the one aspect of Leinster's game-plan.

"When I spoke to Leo (Cullen) I was keen to offer support, not just on defence but on attack as well," he explains.

"I focused on defence to start with, but once I felt we had the foundation of a good defensive system, I worked on attack. In the second year, I've probably spent more time on leadership development with some players.

"I've tried to help out beyond Leinster with the schools, coaching conferences and things like that, but the role stayed the same and with Girv (Dempsey) going and Felipe (Contepomi) coming in that's not changed the dynamic at all really."

Given his immediate success with Leinster and the impressive manner in which he has rebuilt his reputation following England's abysmal 2015 World Cup campaign, it has been no surprise that several clubs have been monitoring Lancaster's situation.

The feeling is he will eventually become the main man at a club or country again, but it was music to the ears of every Leinster fan to hear that the 48-year old signed a new contract last year.

"I don't know how many phone calls I've had, but it's not been many, I can assure you," Lancaster admits.

"It's the start of the season, everyone's happy, everyone's settled, I'm not expecting any phone calls.

"To be honest, I'm not seeking any either. I enjoy it here, it's a great club. We had success and the challenge now is to back it up. If there are any decisions down the line, the number one consideration is my family.

"I'm still on the commute. My wife lives in Leeds, my daughter just got her A Levels, she's going to university in three weeks. My son (Dan) is just about to sign his first academy contract (with Yorkshire Carnegie), he's 17 going on 18. There's big things going on and I want to be around for them.

Different

"It's all well and good having the romantic notion of coaching in the southern hemisphere, but it's not much use if your kids are at uni and you can't see them - that's part of the equation people forget."

Lancaster was set to go down an entirely different road until Cullen picked up the phone and sounded him out for the job at Leinster.

He might have stayed in the southern hemisphere following his stint with Counties Manukau, and as Lancaster watches other young Irish coaches like Ronan O'Gara taking a similar road less travelled, it's an approach that he admires.

"I was delighted for him (O'Gara) to achieve the success he did with the Crusaders because I thought it was an incredibly brave move," he says.

"He was given the opportunity, which is very rare in New Zealand rugby, to get a northern hemisphere coach to be granted that opportunity because their coaching development programme dictates that they are a very New Zealand-first model.

"He has probably learned more in six months than he would have done in any other environment."


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