Sunday 22 July 2018

New lease of coaching life allows Lancaster to thrive alongside Cullen

Gloucester Rugby senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Sportsfile
Gloucester Rugby senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leinster have made a couple of exciting signings ahead of the new season but perhaps the most important bit of business that was done behind the scenes was securing the future of Stuart Lancaster for the next two years.

Lancaster has become a vital cog in Leinster's wheel and the expectation is that having had a full pre-season with the squad, they will be even better this year.

When the former England boss surprised everyone and rocked up to Leinster last September, he was announced as a 'senior coach', which in truth was a title that few understood.

Lancaster "takes the bulk of the team sessions", according to head coach Leo Cullen who concentrates on working with the forwards, and in particular the lineout and restart.

The notion of any power struggle developing with Cullen, who Lancaster insists has the final say, has never materialised and in fact, the pair are now neighbours in Dublin.

All told, Lancaster's shrewd appointment has worked well for everyone but you get the impression that he will eventually re-emerge from the shadows into a head coach role.

"I don't worry too much about titles," Lancaster insists.

"It's more for you guys, clarity on the role... it works well for us and it was fine by me, which was the most important thing.

"There is a big coaching element to the role I have got. I try and help Leo out with the leadership and the direction and culture of the team.

"I don't think we'd argue. I'd certainly give my point of view on selection, for example, but I respect the fact that Leo makes the final call.

"There are a lot of dynamics Leo has to deal with in terms of the club-country relationship as well. I can't think of another club with as many internationals."

Lancaster is clearly highly rated within the coaching structure in Ireland.

Since the summer tour of the USA and Japan, Joe Schmidt has been relaying feedback to the 47-year-old who in turn is having conversations with the players who were involved. He is now a firm part of Schmidt's circle of trust.

"One of the advantages of the job I do now is that Leo would spend a lot of time with players who aren't being picked," Lancaster explains.

"With the size of the squad, everyone's disappointed if they don't get picked. So Leo at some point has to go around and say: 'you're not playing this week, this is the reason why'.

"So I'm spending a lot of time with players who are getting played and that's a complete contrast with England, where I was doing Leo's job."

Lancaster's contract extension was announced at the end of May but he had long since made up his mind about where his immediate future lay.

He will continue to make the commute over and back to Leeds at the weekends and while it is not an ideal scenario, it is one that he feels works well for his family.

"I was pretty open-minded and I know when I decided to come in, it was a mutual agreement to make it a year and for me the main reason was family," he says.

"I was reasonably confident after meeting Leo and thinking it through that it would work and that I'd enjoy it, so it actually became a very easy decision, the whole conversation actually lasted 10 minutes.

Announced

"I was keen to carry on, they were keen for me to stay on. I know it was never actually announced until after the Scarlets game but it was actually done and dusted in March.

"I would have found it very hard to stand in front of players talking about trying to win big games and in my mind be planning my exit, because you've got to be up front with your players and I wanted to show them that I was 100pc committed."

How certain other provinces and their players could have done with a similar degree of loyalty from their supremos.

Given that Lancaster's family have remained in Leeds, his evenings aren't as hectic as that of an average father of two teenagers.

Yet he has already put in a huge amount of work with the province's schools and academies - a previous role that he relished with England - which is as much down to his passion for the sport as it is his pride of being a part of Leinster's growing culture.

"I guess I've tried to evolve the role I've got," he adds.

"I've tried to do sessions with schools, trying to give something back to the academy.

Not that I've time on my hands, but because I don't have the family in the evenings I try to give something back in a different way.

"It's probably not in my role to do that, but I enjoy doing it."

Irish Independent

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