Sunday 21 January 2018

Matt O'Connor on Leinster departure: 'I am disappointed and frustrated with our form in the PRO12 this season'

Matt O’Connor will leave Leinster
Matt O’Connor will leave Leinster

Ruadhri O'Connor

MATT O'CONNOR will leave Leinster this summer after two seasons at the club with former captain Leo Cullen taking temporary control. He had a year to run on his contract.

The players, who have remained with the province training despite their season domestic ending last weekend, were informed this morning at a meeting that their coach would be departing by "mutual consent".

The Australian succeeded Joe Schmidt in 2013 and guided Leinster to the Pro12 title in his first year, reaching the Champions Cup semi-final this season. However, he has come under fire for his team's style of play throughout the campaign, while league results meant the champions missed out on the play-offs with three weeks to go.

O'Connor also fell foul of his predecessor and IRFU performance director David Nucifora who together took the unorthodox step of calling a press conference to denounce a number of his criticisms of the player management system. In time, that may be seen as the moment his cause was lost.

The players have continuously offered their coach their public backing and there will be some disappointment in the dressing-room at his departure.

Read more: Comment: Taking over from Joe Schmidt was always an impossible task for O'Connor

Read more: Poll: Who will replace Matt O'Connor at Leinster? Here are the contenders

Leinster will now begin a search for a new coach in conjunction with the union, but may find it difficult this late in the day.

Internally, Girvan Dempsey would be the front-runner, but the province have a proven track record of identifying coaches from abroad.

A Leinster statement read: "During Matt's time here we won the PRO12 during his first season and have made progress in both European campaigns. Matt will leave Leinster Rugby with the best wishes and thanks of all involved with the province for all his hard work during his two years.

"We wish Matt the very best of luck for the future and thank him sincerely for his contribution to Leinster."

O'Connor revealed his disappointment and frustration at Leinster's form this season.

"I am disappointed and frustrated with our form in the PRO12 this season," explained O'Connor. "We set high standards for ourselves and for many reasons, we did not achieve those highs throughout the league this campaign.

"However the European journey that we took over two seasons, for a new group of coaches, players and staff, is one that we can be very proud of. The dynamic in Europe has changed with meritocracy and fewer teams competing and this has improved the quality. We went toe to toe with the best and there is no shame in losing to Toulon by the smallest of margins and I'm extremely proud of the group and the character shown."

O'Connor went on to thank those that had helped him during his tenure at Leinster Rugby.

"I would like to thank my coaching team and the backroom staff for their support and for leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of a performance every week.

"I'd also like to thank the players for their application during my time here. They have been a pleasure to work with and I will look back on my time with great fondness for what we achieved together.

"Finally, to the supporters, thanks for making me and my family feel welcome during our time here and I wish Leinster Rugby the very best of luck for the future."

Mick Dawson also confirmed that Leo Cullen, Leinster's forwards coach, would be taking over all team matters on an interim basis until a replacement had been found and that a search for a replacement was underway.

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