Matt O’Connor hoping Leinster’s winning culture helps keep Seán O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip in the fold
Leinster coach admits they could not afford to lose such key players
Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Devin Toner at Ireland’s recent training get-togegher at Carton House. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Having already bade adieu, or hopefully au revoir, to Jonny Sexton, Leinster know better than any Irish province of the predatory nature of the Top 14 clubs, and they also have their hands tied. But as the nouveau riche French vultures hover over leading Irish-based players such as Jamie Heaslip, and especially given Racing Metro’s very real pursuit of Sean O’Brien, Matt O’Connor has again backed Leinster’s winning culture and professional environment to keep them in the fold.
“You can never be too confident until it’s signed but I would be very disappointed if they chose to move on. You certainly understand those decisions but we’ll back our environment to keep them here and make sure that we are continuing to add value to them and they are continuing to add value to us.”
‘Happy in the environment’
“That’s our challenge, to create an environment where winning is inevitable and they want to be a part of it, they feel a part of it and the whole thing feeds off itself. I think those guys are pretty happy in the environment, like I said, they still have things they want to achieve with Ireland and Leinster. I think if you asked them, they would say this is the best place for them to be.
“That doesn’t change the fact that there’s a decision to be made off the back of the rewards elsewhere but we’re pretty confident those guys will want to stay and be a part of what is happening currently.”
Whether that proves sufficient to persuade the players is another matter, particularly if – as in Sexton’s case and is again likely – Racing Metro’s offer to O’Brien exceeds the IRFU’s.
In any event, O’Connor readily concedes Leinster can ill-afford to lose O’Brien or Heaslip in addition to Sexton. “One hundred per cent. You cannot replace world-class players overnight; that’s the reality of it. You can’t go to the market and replace Brian O’Driscoll, Jamie Heaslip or Sean O’Brien, because those players don’t exist in the market, so we need to keep those guys here. They understand that and, by and large, they want to stay in the environment. They’ve got things they still want to achieve.
Given O’Driscoll, Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings cannot last forever, O’Brien and Heaslip are future leaders, although they are current leaders as well.
“They are at the top of the peer group and are driving the standards every day. They are already significant figures and with other significant bodies moving on in the next 12/24 months, they will certainly move into that space and be the drivers of the organisation moving forward.”