O’Connor to be confirmed as Schmidt’s replacement at Leinster in next few days
Geordan Murphy set to take up coaching role and says his former boss is a great bloke
Matt O’Connor: set to named the new Leinster head coach. Photograph: Getty Images
Leicester Tigers head coach Matt O’Connor will be confirmed as Joe Schmidt’s replacement at Leinster on a three-year contract in the coming days.
The arrival of the 42-year-old Australian will be the only change in Leinster’s coaching structure next season.
It means a shifting around at Leicester, where Geordan Murphy is poised to move directly from player to skills coach this summer, while another former Irish international, Paul Burke, is a candidate for promotion.
Burke has been kicking/backline coach at the Tigers since 2008, while Murphy has been attached to the club since 1997, making over 300 appearances.
The 74 times capped former Ireland fullback is due to play his last game for Leicester against London Irish at Welford Road this Saturday.
“Matty joined us from the ACT Brumbies, when [current Springbok coach] Heyneke Meyer recruited him in 2008,” said Murphy.
Capped once by the Wallabies, at inside centre against Ireland in 1994 at Ballymore, O’Connor was part of the ACT Brumbies set-up before switching to Rugby League. After stints in Paris and Japan, he returned to the Brumbies and his innovative approach to attack saw him utilised by Australia A before Meyer head-hunted him.
“He’s a great coach and a great bloke,” said Murphy. “Despite what was been written over the weekend I get on really well with Matty. There is no issue between us at the club and never has been. I don’t know where that came from. I’ve only just begun talks with the club about my own future.”
Murphy was referring to a suggestion that his own potential switch into the Tigers coaching group had influenced O’Connor’s decision to leave Leicester.
However, O’Connor was drawn to Dublin by the opportunity to become head coach of the European champions. The structure at Leicester means although he is head coach, he’s still answerable to Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill.
“He’s definitely a loss to Leicester,” Murphy continued. “He has been very good for us, done a lot for our club. We’ve been in the last three Premiership finals under him. He’s very good behind the scenes as well.
“There was a lot of talk of us needing a defensive coach after we leaked the most tries in the Premiership during the 2011 World Cup, when we were 13 guys down, but Matty added that responsibility to his other duties and we sorted it out.”
Along with defence, O’Connor also coaches the Tigers backline and attack.
The decision to keep the entire Leinster coaching ticket intact is an attempt to settle the disruption caused by the departures of Jonathan Sexton, Isa Nacewa, Jamie Hagan, Heinke van der Merwe, Fionn Carr, Andrew Conway and Schmidt.
“I think everyone is looking at that and saying, ‘how will they survive?’” said Leinster assistant coach Richie Murphy yesterday.
“I don’t think anyone is able to say for definite that everything is going to be fine, but the one thing that you would say of the young guys who are coming in and some of the players who are joining the squad is that there is a massive hunger still there.
“Winning two Heineken Cups in the last two years and then going out early this season, you could see how the Amlin re-energised players. Some people were questioning, ‘would they go for it or not?’ and the weekend proved how hungry the squad actually is.
“Yeah, we’re losing top players but we’ve lost top players before,” Murphy continued. “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.”