Leinster confirm Matt O’Connor signs three-year deal
Australian to see out contract with Leicester Tigers and start Leinster post on July 1st
Matt O’Connor: will finish this season with his current employers the Leicester Tigers, before taking up his new appointment on July 1st. Photograph: Inpho
Leinster have announced 42-year-old Australian Matt O’Connor will coach the province after he signed a three-year contract. He will finish this season with his current employers the Leicester Tigers, before taking up his new appointment on July 1st.
The backroom team will remain the same as confirmed by Leinster team manager Guy Easterby.
The Irish province’s choice to succeed Joe Schmidt had been an open secret for over a week. Leinster had already begun a process to replace Schmidt after he indicated he would probably return to New Zealand when his one-year contract extension expired at the end of next season.
O’Connor was always going to be considered, Easterby explained: “His name had come up quite a lot in terms of our investigations; not necessarily for the job starting on July 1st but the one (potentially) in 15 months time.
“He was someone who we had certainly highlighted in terms of what we were looking for as a head coach; someone (who leads) in a similar vein to Joe in what he was going to deliver on the training pitch, which is the main part of the role.
‘Enjoy the challenge’
“They (the players) 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. I think continuing that, in that ilk, you’re never going to get exactly the same and you probably don’t want exactly the same, because it’s nice to change things up every now and again, but hopefully he’ll bring some small tweaks that are different to Joe.
“We got a little bit of luck with the timing because you would not be guaranteed that (the) someone (that you are looking for) would be out of contract. That was a real positive for us. I know he had a contract offer on the table from Leicester so in terms of the timing there was some luck involved in that. We’re delighted that he was available and wanted the job.”
Leinster spoke to a variety of people in establishing O’Connor’s bona fides. Two former Tigers Shane Jennings and Leo Cullen made inquiries while the current Leicester club captain Geordan Murphy was among others also consulted.
One factor in O’Connor’s decision to swop Leicester for Dublin might be having greater autonomy over team affairs than he did at Welford Road. Easterby explained: “There is a difference in that he had a director of rugby above him in Richard Cockerill. As much as Matt runs a lot of their rugby programme there, and the direction in which the team play, I think Cockerill is still the face of it and certainly does most of the media.
“Matt will see it as his chance to run a ship and run it the way he wants to run it. 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 be a step up for him in terms of responsibility.
‘Calls the shots’
“And that’s not to make him sound like a control freak but you can understand that that would be a coach’s natural ambition, to be the one that calls the shots.”
O’Connor played most of his club rugby in Canberra with ACT and then the Brumbies and then won his only cap for Australia against Ireland. He also coached in Super League and spent three seasons initially playing and then coaching the Kubota team in Japan. On his return to Australia he spent four years at the Brumbies, also coaching Australia A, before joining the Leicester Tigers under Heyneke Meyer in 2009. He was appointed head coach in July 2010.
He said of his new position: “I look forward to working with the province’s established and burgeoning talent from the renowned Leinster academy and I am also pleased to work with the current coaching team who have played such a key part in the province’s success over the last four years. At this time my focus remains with Leicester, but I would like to thank the Leinster Board for this vote of confidence and my family and I are hugely excited about starting this new chapter in our lives.”