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O'Connor can pick up where Schmidt left off – Easterby

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6 May 2013; Leinster's Rob Kearney, left, and Jonathan Sexton look on during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League Play-off match against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday May 11th. Leinster Rugby Squad Training and Media Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

6 May 2013; Leinster's Rob Kearney, left, and Jonathan Sexton look on during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League Play-off match against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday May 11th. Leinster Rugby Squad Training and Media Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

6 May 2013; Leinster's Rob Kearney, left, and Jonathan Sexton look on during squad training ahead of their side's Celtic League Play-off match against Glasgow Warriors on Saturday May 11th. Leinster Rugby Squad Training and Media Briefing, Rosemount, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

GUY EASTERBY believes that Leinster have appointed the perfect replacement for Joe Schmidt in Australian Matt O'Connor.

The Leicester Tigers head coach was confirmed as Schmidt's replacement yesterday morning and has signed a three-year contract with the three-times Heineken Cup champions. He will join Leinster in time for pre-season training on July 1.

"Joe (Schmidt) and Michael (Cheika) were so different in what they brought to the job and were both what Leinster needed at the time," said team manager Easterby.

"Our players are a very experienced group and they manage a lot of things themselves. It's a matter of having a coach who is really going to challenge them.

"They enjoy the challenge with Joe every day because they know if they're not on top of their game when they walk in the door, they are going to get shown up.

"You're never going to get exactly the same (type of coach) and you probably don't want exactly the same, because it's nice to change things up every now and again, but we are continuing with that ilk in Matt, I believe.

"He'll bring some small tweaks that are different to Joe but will also continue the good work of Joe."

O'Connor played most of his club rugby in Canberra with ACT and then the Brumbies and was capped at senior level by Australia against Ireland, while also fitting in a spell in rugby league and a couple of seasons in Japan.

He began his coaching career in Japan before spending four years on the Brumbies coaching staff. He joined the Tigers coaching team in early 2009 and became head coach in July of that year, leading them to successive runners-up positions in the English Premiership; in 2012 they won the LV Cup.

The attraction of Leinster is not just that he will be working with some of the best players in Europe and the world but, Easterby believes, that he will be in sole charge of team affairs.

Chance

"There is a difference in that he had a director of rugby above him in Richard Cockerill in Leicester. Matt will see this as his chance to run a ship and run it the way he wants to run it," said Easterby (pictured left).

"I presume that if there's a 50-50 call in Leicester, Richard Cockerill makes the decision. As always with a head coach and a director of rugby there may be some differing of opinion, but at the end of the day the director of rugby makes the decision, so I guess that for him would a step up for him in terms of responsibility."

O'Connor was generous on his praise for Leinster and is clearly enthused at the prospect of succeeding Schmidt.

"I am delighted to join Leinster," he said. "The playing staff, coaching team and facilities are first class and I have been hugely encouraged by the hunger within the province to push on despite enjoying an unprecedented period of success on the field in recent years."

Meanwhile, Easterby dismissed any fears over the fitness of Jonathan Sexton after the out-half sat out yesterday's training session. Sexton was winded during last weekend's game but Easterby insisted he will be "good to go" for Saturday's Pro12 semi-final against Glasgow Warriors.

Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip also sat out the session. Heaslip will have his stitches removed this week and should be available.

Gordon D'Arcy should also be available, while Dave Kearney is making steady progress.

Irish Independent