'I was unbelievably pissed off' - Luke Fitzgerald on how Leinster made a 'big mistake' in axing former coach
Luke Fitzgerald has revealed that he thinks his former club Leinster made a 'big mistake' in getting rid of Matt O'Connor as head coach in 2015.
The Australian, who won a PRO 12 title in his first season after taking over from Joe Schmidt, departed the following summer following a tumultuous league campaign that saw Leinster finish outside the playoff spots for the only time since the format came in.
However, Leinster also reached a Champions Cup semi-final that year, where they were narrowly defeated after extra time by eventual three in-a-row Europeans champions Toulon.
The decision to cut ties with O'Connor left Leinster scrambling for a replacement, and after failing to land an experienced head coach, former captain Leo Cullen was promoted to run the team despite having just one season of professional experience as a forwards coach.
Speaking on The Left Wing, Independent.ie's rugby podcast, Fitzgerald said that he was very annoyed when he heard the news, and thought Leinster made a big error in getting rid of O'Connor when they did.
"I was unbelievably pissed off," Fitzgerald said.
"I thought it was a big mistake. Leo [Cullen] was really upset about that. The timing [of it], we couldn't get anyone. Leo, at the end of the day, had to step up and take a role that he really didn't want at that time."
Many Leinster fans were pleased that O'Connor departed, but Fitzgerald argues that he was unlucky that he didn't get to work with the same squad that delivered four trophies under Joe Schmidt.
"If we didn't miss that drop goal against Toulon, we would have been in a [Champions Cup] final," Fitzgerald said.
"I actually rate him very highly. You have got to remember that he is playing with a very different team. He had no Johnny Sexton there. That is big. Isa Nacewa wasn't there. Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy were both coming towards the end. I think off the back of that, he was a bit unlucky."
O'Connor was back in Ireland as Leicester coach last weekend, and took part in a fiery press conference after losing 33-10 to Munster at Thomond Park, hitting out at the referee and Munster's work at the breakdown.
Fitzgerald says that if he could give his old coach one piece of advice, it would be to improve his media relations so that when things do go wrong, the press aren't as quick to turn negative.
"He doesn't value the media, which is a big mistake in the top job," Fitzgerald said.
"For the most part, Joe [Schmidt] engages and I think off the back of that, the rhetoric written about you isn't as aggressive."
"He was the kind of guy that everybody liked in the organisation.
"He works really hard. He knows his stuff inside out but he needs to work on his relationship with the media."
Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.