Tigers head coach O’Connor set to take up Leinster’s job offer
MATT O'CONNOR could be unveiled as the new Leinster coach before the end of the week – he has informed Leicester Tigers he will be leaving at the end of the season.
The Australian had been offered a new deal as head coach at Welford Road but appears to have opted to take up Leinster's offer to replace Joe Schmidt next season.
The 42-year-old is in his fifth season with the English club, where he works under director of rugby Richard Cockerill. His move to Leinster looks set to pave the way for former Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy to be added to the coaching ticket at Leicester when he retires at the end of the season.
O'Connor (pictured) was in Dublin last week to meet with Leinster staff and players. Schmidt's assistants have a year remaining on their deals.
The former centre won his one Wallaby cap against Ireland in 1994 and his playing career included a spell in Japan and also in rugby league. He moved into coaching on retirement and his work with the Leicester attack is highly rated.
His appointment will mean that the positions of national team coach, all four provincial coaches and the U-20 coach will come from outside Ireland for the first time.
O'Connor will have to deal with the departures of Jonny Sexton and Isa Nacewa and win over a group of players who have fully bought into Schmidt's methods.
However, Leinster assistant coach Richie Murphy believes that the structures are in place at the province to continue their success under the new man. "Joe will be a very hard act to follow," he admitted. "We're losing top players but we've lost top players before. Going back to 2009, when Rocky (Elsom) and all were leaving, people were asking the same questions. I don't think Leinster will be taking a backward step any time soon."
It emerged last night that Leinster stalwart and Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip has been nominated for European Player of the Season after Saturday's rampaging display against Biarritz. The No 8 faces stiff competition from Clermont trio Julien Bonnaire, Wesley Fofana and Sitiveni Sivivatu and Toulon's Jonny Wilkinson for the gong, which has been won by team-mates Sean O'Brien and Rob Kearney in the past two seasons.
The Naas man is a major doubt for Friday's meeting with Ospreys after he suffered a large wound on his right leg after a stamping incident late on in Saturday's game which has led to Biarritz hooker Benoit August being cited. The former France international's case will be heard on Thursday and faces a ban that ranges from two to 52 weeks.
As for that Ospreys clash, Schmidt – who took training at Belfield before his press conference at Lansdowne Road – also has doubts over a couple of other players.
Sexton's calf injury and Cian Healy's knee are unlikely to keep them out, while O'Brien looks set to return but Gordon D'Arcy's calf problem may not clear in time, while Dave Kearney remains an absentee.
Meanwhile, Connacht are hoping to be the major beneficiaries if Leinster manage to win the Amlin Challenge Cup on May 17. The Westerners would qualify for the Heineken Cup if Schmidt's charges beat Stade Francais.