Stuart Lancaster’s experience makes him key figure at Leinster
Different skillsets have combined to make Larmour a better rugby player, says Lancaster
Stuart Lancaster: “I would never compromise a team’s defensive cohesion or structure or strength just for a player who has X-factor, a player who can do something in attack but not in defence.” Photograph: Oisin Keniry/Inpho
A month in the England team base at Bagshot during the last Rugby World Cup was eye-opening, a glimpse of how a furious British media can turn and torch gentle Surrey.
It may have been the most traumatic period of Stuart Lancaster’s rugby life. Although England became the first hosts to fall before the knockout phase of the tournament, Lancaster’s reputation has survived and flourished.
A reminder is that Croke Park has him as one of the guest speakers at the GAA Games Development Conference on Saturday. Themed “Think it, do it, become it”, a north of England rugby coach contributing to the GAA gene pool seems like smart thinking. Lancaster’s sweep of experience and communication skills has made him a pivotal figure at Leinster.
Part of that has come from an ability to draw on the English coaching experience good and bad. Among the damning headlines of that World Cup, it shouldn’t be forgotten it was Lancaster who conducted the overhaul and reformation of England’s squad culture, which during and after the 2011 Rugby World Cup had fallen to arrogance and indiscipline.
On any team, he says, ability and competency trumps everything. In a sense there is no such thing as young or old players only those who can play. In Leinster the fingerprints of the former England coach are everywhere.
“I guess I have to go back to my time with England. I think I capped for the first cap probably 40 odd players. So time and time again it was Anthony Watson or Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, George Ford. the list went on for the young players I gave opportunities to. “If they show they have the temperament and the skill set, and the ability to play at the highest level, then I don’t believe age should be a barrier to that.
“Take Jordan [Larmour] as an example. It’s not just that he has been thrust into the senior team. He’s been training with us nonstop now, certainly since the time I’ve been here. Things we’ve seen him do in games, I’ve seen him do for the last six months.”
Among the backs and leaving aside Josh van der Flier, James Ryan, Dan Leavy or Tadhg Furlong, the backline is bristling with young players who have a perceived X-factor in Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Joey Carbery, and Kiwi James Lowe.
With Carbery just back at training after a wrist fracture and Ringrose recovering from an ankle operation, it’s not a question for the selection against Glasgow this week. But on another day could all four be accommodated or are the combined go-forward instincts too developed?
“Definitely, they could play together,” says Lancaster. “Because they’ve got to be able to defend as well.
“I would never compromise a team’s defensive cohesion or structure or strength just for a player who has X-factor, a player who can do something in attack but not in defence. “Jordan’s positioning has been very good at 15. Defensively he’s has been very good. Garry is obviously a very good defender. Joey is an excellent defender.
“James Lowe – I’m working on him – he is coming from a very different defence system from where he was playing with the Chiefs and Tasman in New Zealand. It is part of the reason why I was cautious about putting him straight in there. He needed to understand how we defend at Leinster.”
Although Ringrose and Carbery are just 22-years-old, 20-year-old Larmour has become the next best thing, and could get his first European start this weekend. There is always a next best thing.
In Larmour Lancaster sees a likeness to an England and Exeter Chiefs’ player who also plays wing, fullback and in the centre. “The player he reminds me most of from England is Jack Nowell,” says Lancaster.
“Jack is a very similar type of player who could play full-back, wing, No 13 and he can pop up all over the place, and he is a threat. Jack is slightly stockier, probably hasn’t got the top-end speed that Jordan has.” Larmour has also become a poster boy for playing across sports, and the coach in Lancaster can see the borrowings. Different skill sets have combined to make him a better rugby player.
“In rugby we often end up thinking we’ve got to prioritise. You can look at him and see he was an [age grade] international hockey player. That multi-sport background that he’s got is certainly to his advantage.”
This weekend Lancaster, like Darren Sweetnam and the many other professional players who have crossed sports, will embody that theory when he shares a podium with Paul McGinley and John McGrath, coach to Luvo Manyonga, Olympic silver medallist and world champion long jumper.
Spreading the sporting gene pool is working in Leinster. Clearly the GAA is aware.