Friday 24 November 2017

The rehabilitation of a coach - how Stuart Lancaster got his career back on track by doing the same with Leinster

Will Slattery

Will Slattery

There are a couple of striking similarities between the head coaching careers of Stuart Lancaster and Eddie O'Sullivan.

Both of them took over their national sides during a period of uncertainty - O'Sullivan after the surprise sacking of Warren Gatland in 2001, Lancaster after England's dispiriting quarter-final exit at the 2011 World Cup, a competition where the team generated more headlines for dwarf throwing and leaping ferry exits than for any bit of on-pitch positivity.

Both then turned their teams into remarkably consistent Six Nations outfits, with Ireland winning four games out of five in four seasons out of five, while England achieved four victories in four consecutive campaigns.

But for all their success, neither coach was able to deliver a Six Nations title and ultimately departed after overseeing catastrophic World Cup campaigns.

But that is where the similarities end.

While O'Sullivan was recently on Off the Ball lamenting Irish rugby's reluctance to give him a second chance, Lancaster was given an opportunity to rehabilitate his career with Leinster, having jetted off to the southern hemisphere after the World Cup to broaden his coaching experience and escape the consistent pillorying that accompanied England's no-show at home.

His appointment was expertly kept under wraps by Leinster - there had been no reports of Lancaster's arrival until he was announced as the new 'senior coach' in a press release. This was smart at it didn't give journalists, pundits and fans a chance to second guess his possible appointment.

Lancaster was dropped in at short notice and quick success meant that there was little room for doubt.

He has only been at Leinster for a few months but his impact at the province emphasises the need for people to be given second chances.

Players like Johnny Sexton have been quick to name-drop him in interviews when the subject of the team's potent attack has been raised - and the numbers show that there is plenty of merit in any words of praise sent Lancaster's way in that regard.

Leinster are having a try-scoring renaissance this season - they have crossed the line 49 times in 13 Pro12 games, only two less than they managed in their 22 league fixtures last season.

They are scoring an average of 3.76 tries per league game, which is a team record in the Pro 12 era. In Joe Schmidt's three seasons - when Leinster were at their swashbuckling best - they scored 48, 50 and 63 tries in the league.

They have already eclipsed that first season total and are on course to break the 70 try mark by the end of this campaign.

In Europe, their attack has been even better, with an average of 5.17 tries per game this season. The 31 tries Leinster scored during the pool stages was their highest total since the 2004/05 season.

The are plenty of factors to consider when apportioning credit for this turnaround - the signing of Robbie Henshaw, the emergence of some cracking young players, the continued development of an inexperienced Irish coaching ticket in just their second season, but Lancaster deserves as much plaudits as anyone else.

He could have easily been forced, like O'Sullivan before him, to take some of rugby's less glamorous jobs to rehabilitate his reputation following the World Cup debacle, but Leinster took a chance on him, and it has paid off handsomely, with Lancaster showing that he has learned from his experience with England.

A big knock on him during his time as an international coach was that he didn't do enough of the on-field coaching, preferring to delegate to Andy Farrell and the rest of his experienced staff.

During his initial press conference after arriving in Dublin, he touched on that perception, saying that he was looking forward to getting back to basics on the training pitch as well as working with Leinster's enviable young talent.

Lancaster has unquestionably been a success in both of those regards. The Englishman is the main voice during training sessions and you can see his hands on approach when the team warms up, and on occasions when TV cameras are allowed peek inside the dressing room.

Furthermore, Lancaster's experience working with young players has surely played a part in the form of Joey Carbery, Ross Byrne, Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin, with the quartet impressing throughout the season.

Not only has Lancaster helped turn Leinster around, he has done the same to his own coaching career.

In five short months, he has come in from the cold and turned into one of the hottest coaching candidates around.

With plenty of club jobs in England expected to be available at the season's end, Leinster will be doing well to hang onto him. Making Lancaster the head coach and Leo Cullen the Director of Rugby could work for all parties and would preserve a coaching ticket that has Leinster playing the kind of rugby that packed out the RDS during the European Cup-winning days.

Leinster's reversion to the scintillating style of the Schmidt era has been one of the season's better stories, but it may well be trumped by the redemption of a coach that everybody had written off.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport