Leinster prepare for huge shake-up
AMID ALL the gnashing of teeth in Munster circles about the end of an era being nigh, in fact there will be a more marked end of an era in Leinster in two weeks.
What’s more, in addition to an almost complete overhaul of the most successful coaching staff Leinster have known, both sides will have severe restrictions put on the number of games their frontliners may play next season in advance of the 2011 World Cup.
As their run to this season’s Heineken Cup semi-finals and Magners League final underlines (all the more so in light of losing Rocky Elsom, Felipe Contepomi and Chris Whitaker at the end of last season), Michael Cheika will take some replacing, not least as two of the other coaching pillars in the last few years, defensive coach Kurt McQuilkin and backs coach Alan Gaffney, are also moving on.
New head coach Joe Schmidt, whose Clermont Auvergne will be seeking an elusive first Bouclier du Brennus when they take on champions Perpignan at Stade de France on Saturday week in their fourth consecutive French Championship final and 11th overall, will at least have forwards coach Jonno Gibbes to offer some kind of continuity.
Although Schmidt specialises in back play and defence as assistant to Vern Cotter at Clermont, he will doubtless be bringing in another coach to his management ticket. Guy Easterby is replacing Chris Whitaker as manager.
When the players re-assemble in pre-season, there will of course be another few familiar faces missing following the impending retirements of stalwarts such as Malcolm O’Kelly and Girvan Dempsey. It is also highly probable that Bernard Jackman, CJ van der Linde and Chris Keane will be moving on as well.
Three of their academy products are also moving on: scrumhalf Dave Moore is to join NEC Harlequins, while Shane Monaghan and Kyle Tonetti have been lined up by Connacht.
The only confirmed signings are Isaac Boss and the Irish-qualified Ed O’Donoghue.
With one of their five permitted foreigners to fill, along with Isa Nacewa, Nathan Hines, Shaun Berne and Stan Wright, Leinster are expected to target another prop to replace van der Linde, or possibly a back-five forward.
Also, one or two of the other seven academy graduates being upgraded to development contracts might be fully contracted.
By contrast, head coach Tony McGahan has signed up for another two seasons in Munster, and the old warhorses are on board again for at least another season or two.
On the playing front, too, there is marginally less upheaval, with ex-All Blacks centre Sam Tuitupou joining from Worcester to replace the departing Jean de Villiers.
Jeremy Manning is set to relocate to the Top 14 in France or to Italy, while Nick Williams, Julien Brugnaut and Cillian O’Boyle are being released.
Scrumhalf Duncan Williams, prop Dave Ryan (more a loose-head than the ill-fitting tighthead role he assumed as a replacement against Leinster) and flanker Timmy O’Donnell are being promoted to full-time contracts.
As with Leinster, six or seven of their Academy products have graduated to development contracts.
Similarly too, they are keen to sign a prop, but the IRFU’s Players Advisory Group (which sanctions all signings) have stipulated that any such signing must be either Irish-qualified or capable of qualifying for Ireland.
This severely limits who they might sign, and furthermore the traffic in overseas signings will not be bountiful just over a year out from the World Cup – whereas it’s liable to flow like honey immediately afterwards.
INS: Sam Tuitupou (centre, Worcester, right), Johne Murphy (wing/fullback, Leicester). Upgraded (from development to full-time contracts): Timmy O’Donnell (flanker), Dave Ryan (prop), Duncan Williams (scrumhalf). Upgraded (Academy to development contracts): Ian Nagle (lock/backrow), Dave Foley (lock), Stephen Archer (prop), Peter O’Mahony (backrow), Danny Barnes (wing/centre), Declan Cusack (training contract).
OUTS:Jean de Villiers (South Africa), Jeremy Manning (France/Italy), Nick Williams (released), Julien Brugnaut (released), Cillian O’Boyle (released).
INS:Joe Schmidt (Clermont Auvergne, head coach), Isaac Boss (scrumhalf, Ulster), Ed O’Donoghue (lock, Ulster), Guy Easterby (manager). Upgraded (Academy to development contract): Paul Ryan (flanker), Rhys Ruddock (flanker), Andrew Conway (fullback/wing), Jack McGrath (prop), Eoin Sheriff (lock), Brendan Macken (centre), Niall Morris (fullback).
OUTS:Michael Cheika (head coach, Stade Francais), Alan Gaffney (backs coach, Ireland), Kurt McQuilkin (defence coach, New Zealand), Malcolm O’Kelly (retiring), Girvan Dempsey (retiring), CJ van der Linde (South Africa, tbc), Bernard Jackman (retiring, tbc), Chris Keane (retiring, tbc), Chris Whitaker (manager, Stade Francais), Dave Moore (Academy scrumhalf, Harlequins), Shane Monaghan (Academy winger, Connacht), Kyle Tonetti (Academy centre, Connacht tbc).