Joe Schmidt set to be confirmed as Ireland head coach in coming days
O’Connor lined up as new Leinster coach while Munster can be proud in defeat
Dejected Munster players clap off Clermont Auvergne following the French side’s victory at Stade de la Mosson. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images
Joe Schmidt is set to be confirmed early this week as the next head coach of the Irish team on a three-year contract until the end of the 2015-16 season, taking in the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Six Nations.
So advanced are negotiations that Leinster’s search for his successor has already resulted in Leicester Tigers’ head coach Matt O’Connor emerging as the province’s favourite. However, there remain a couple of issues to be resolved before that becomes an eventuality, most likely at the end of the week.
The 42-year-old ex-Brumbies centre, after the shift from Michael Cheika’s five-year tenure to Schmidt, is seen as more of a continuation; an energetic, hands-on coach who will challenge the players.
Having been backs coach at the Brumbies for four years and served under Heyneke Meyer and Richard Cockerill at Leicester as Directors of Rugby, Leinster have taken a similar approach in promoting a well-regarded coach. But like Schmidt he has served an extensive apprenticeship and has worked with some major frontline internationals.
Schmidt will seek to complete possibly the most productive three-year spell in Leinster’s history were they to complete the double of Rabo Pro 12 and Amlin Challenge Cup, to augment back-to-back Heineken Cup triumphs. Next Friday they host the Ospreys, themselves needing a win to have any chance of progress, with the carrot of a semi-final and final at the RDS in light of Ulster choosing the venue as their ground for the decider.
Similarly, Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final filleting of Biarritz at the RDS earned them a final there against Stade Francais on Friday, May 17th. The day after the Challenge Cup final, when a Leinster win would also earn Connacht a third Heineken Cup campaign in a row, Clermont Auvergne meet Toulon in the Heineken Cup final at the Aviva Stadium.
Toulon’s 24-12 win over Saracens at Twickenham yesterday courtesy of seven penalties and a drop goal by Jonny Wilkinson to four penalties by Owen Farrell was a predictably colourless arm-wrestle compared to the colourful rollercoaster in Montpellier’s Stade de la Mosson on Saturday.
Clermont made a statement of intent at the Aviva last December by completing a double over Leinster . Having provisionally booked 23 flights to Dublin for the weekend even before the semi-final, it is anticipated that the Yellow Army will provide a convoi exceptionnel of up to 15,000.
“We have three weeks to prepare for the final and we’re very happy to have made it and to go back to the Aviva,” said their coach Vern Cotter after Saturday’s 16-10 win over Munster. “We learned a lot against Munster today. They never gave up. It was a real man’s match,” he said.
Best side in Europe
Les Jaunards will assuredly enjoy whatever ‘neutral’ Irish support which will be in attendance. O’Connell described Clermont as the best side in Europe, even if he spoke for all when lamenting the Munster chances that slipped away, and the mutual respect between players and supporters alike in Montpellier was tangible, despite the loud booing which greeted O’Connell’s every move.
“I didn’t mind it, probably enjoyed it a little bit to be honest with you,” said the Munster captain with a smile. “It didn’t bug me at all. It’s part of the game.”
The “coverage” arising from his non-citing for kicking Dave Kearney “wasn’t ideal”, he admitted, whereas the groin injury he sustained last Monday seriously jeopardised and assuredly hindered his involvement.
“I was frustrated and disappointed for Dave (Kearney) more than myself but I just put it aside and concentrated on the game. Once the injury came along it kind of took over and that became the main worry.”
For the new generation who had been exposed to this more elevated European air for the first time, there was much to take from it all and particularly this game. “The key one is belief,” said Rob Penney. “That these guys now believe they can compete against the best teams in Europe and as their careers go on, they’ll be aiming to beat the best teams on the planet. So when they go and play for Ireland they can compete with New Zealanders, Australians and South Africans every time they play them, not just on a one-off.”