Matt O’Connor let go by Leinster following mid-week meetings

Forwards’ coach Leo Cullen is to take over in the short term

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor has been let go by the Irish province. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor has been let go by the Irish province. Photo: Gary Carr/Inpho

 

Matt O’Connor has been let go as Leinster coach following a couple of meetings during the week. The Australian was two years into a three year contract with the Irish province. The Leinster players were informed at a meeting this morning.

In his first season, Leinster won what is now the Guinness Pro12 title, but were beaten in the Heineken Cup quarter-final by the eventual champions Toulon. This season the Irish province failed to make the league playoffs. They were again beaten by Toulon, this time after extra time in the Champions Cup semi-final in Marseille.

O’Connor, who took over from Joe Schmidt at Leinster coach in the summer of 2013 after the latter had accepted the Ireland job, joined the province from the Leicester Tigers. Despite the consistent backing of his players there was frustration amongst the supporters at Leinster’s style of play and the lack of opportunities for young players.

The Australia clashed with the IRFU’s Performance Director David Nucifora and his predecessor and current Ireland coach Schmidt in regard to the player management system; O’Connor intimated that he was hamstrung by a lack of consistent access to his top players. Previous coaches had to work with the same system.

Former Leinster captain and forwards’ coach Leo Cullen is likely to take over in the short term. Among the leading candidates to take over might be former Canterbury Crusaders boss Robbie Deans - currently based in Japan - who coincidentally will be in Ireland next week to take charge of the Barbarians when they play Ireland at Thomond Park next Thursday.

An official announcement confirming the decision was made by Leinster Rugby CEO Mick Dawson on Thursday morning in UCD following a meeting of the Professional Games Board.

A statement released by the province read;

“During Matt’s time here we won the Pro12 during his first season and we have made progress in both European campaigns. Matt will leave Leinster Rugby with the best wishes and thanks of all involved with the province for all his hard work during his two years.

“We wish Matt the very best of luck for the future and thank him sincerely for his contribution to Leinster.”

O’Connor won 40 of his 61 games at the helm, losing 16 and drawing five.

“I am disappointed and frustrated with our form in the Pro12 this season,” explained O’Connor. “We set high standards for ourselves and for many reasons, we did not achieve those highs throughout the league this campaign.

“However the European journey that we took over two seasons, for a new group of coaches, players and staff, is one that we can be very proud of. The dynamic in Europe has changed with meritocracy and fewer teams competing and this has improved the quality. We went toe to toe with the best and there is no shame in losing to Toulon by the smallest of margins and I’m extremely proud of the group and the character shown.”

O’Connor went on to thank those that had helped him during his tenure at Leinster Rugby.

“I would like to thank my coaching team and the backroom staff for their support and for leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of a performance every week.

“I’d also like to thank the players for their application during my time here. They have been a pleasure to work with and I will look back on my time with great fondness for what we achieved together.

“Finally, to the supporters, thanks for making me and my family feel welcome during our time here and I wish Leinster Rugby the very best of luck for the future.”

Mick Dawson also confirmed that Leo Cullen, Leinster’s forwards coach, would be taking over all team matters on an interim basis until a replacement had been found. He added that a search for a replacement was underway.

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