Gerry Thornley: Appointing Stuart Lancaster a good move
Arrival of former England head coach should benefit the province and Lancaster himself
Stuart Lancaster: is widely seen as damaged goods in light of England’s World Cup, but plenty of coaches are damaged along the way. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Cullen has not been usurped by a new head coach/director of rugby with responsibility for selecting the team. Also, given Lancaster has only signed on until the end of the season, Cullen not be superseded in practice, never mind title. He is head coach who will select the team and decide on replacements, though he now has an experienced coach to lean on.
Unlike Erasmus, who was more of an IRFU appointment, Lancaster is a Leinster appointment. He will hardly be made the boss for nine months given the possibility of him then moving on. Nor would Lancaster be inclined to undermine Cullen.
The exact nature of Lancaster’s role was a little vague yesterday, with a press release describing his role as a “senior coach”. However, at the press briefing, Cullen said he would take over from the departed Kurt McQuilkin as defence coach with immediate effect.
That said, both Cullen and Lancaster also talked of him lending a hand with Leinster’s attack, as well as the academy.
Broader remitMike FordEddie Jones
As he intimated yesterday, that role became more and more of an overseeing, off-field role, whereas this enables him to be more hands-on. That will be good for him, as well as taking some of the pressure off Cullen. As an aside his proven working relationship with Andy Farrell can only be helpful.
Lancaster can thus bring more to Leinster than just overseeing a defensive system and training sessions and assuredly will. Glasgow’s potency over Connacht last Saturday will give him plenty to work on this week in advance of Saturday’s meeting at Scotstoun.
As in practically any sport, making it more difficult for the opposition to score is much easier than inventing or improving ways to score. Under McQuilkin after all, Leinster had the best defence in the Guinness Pro12 last season.
While the evidence of their pre-season games and last Friday’s opening win over Treviso (when Leinster made 215 passes and kicked only 22 times) strongly hints at more of a Graham Henry/New Zealand-influenced running game, it’s clearly a work in progress.
To a degree, it would seem that Lancaster’s appointment, like the enlisting of Henry in a consultancy role over the off-season, is another example of Leinster’s fire-fighting ever since the slightly kneejerk decision to remove Matt O’Connor at the end of the 2014-15 season with no apparent Plan B. This led to the appointment of an inexperienced indigenous coaching ticket (McQuilkin apart).
Whether or not Cullen initially contacted Lancaster of his own volition or was encouraged to do so, it was made abundantly clear that the call to Lancaster came directly from Cullen.
In approaching Henry and Lancaster, Cullen has been confident enough to acknowledge that he, Girvan Dempsey and John Fogarty need help, all the more so now that McQuilkin has returned home in desperately unfortunate circumstances. Indeed, it was striking how often Cullen used the word “inexperienced” in describing himself as a coach.
Positive impactGraham HenryMatt WilliamsMichael Cheika
Hence, co-opting Lancaster on to an otherwise inexperienced coaching ticket looks a good move for the province and indeed for Lancaster himself. As he said yesterday, he intends commuting between Dublin and his wife and two teenage kids in northern England rather than re-locate his family abroad. So not only is this a good fit for him on a personal level, but it puts him back in the forefront of northern hemisphere coaching.
At the same time, clearly, in not moving over to Dublin and signing a longer-term contract a la Andy Farrell, both Lancaster and Leinster are adopting something of a wait-and-see approach before deciding whether to make it a longer-term arrangement.
It’s not as if, after all, there are that many experienced and available coaches out there; nor from Lancaster’s standpoint, are there that many jobs so relatively close to home.
Necessity being the mother of invention, Leinster were left with a void in their coaching structure and have moved swiftly to fill it with a slightly manufactured appointment. As bulk suppliers to the team Ireland, Leinster’s squad requires the most man-management. Lancaster’s role will evolve in due course, and he is perhaps not the exact fit, but on balance another voice, especially an experienced one from the outside, ought to be beneficial for the coaching staff and thus the playing squad.