Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
final hurdle

'We'll miss him' - Leinster look to send Lancaster out on a high

Today’s Champions Cup final will be the Leinster senior coach’s final game with the province.

AFTER SEVEN YEARS in Dublin, today sees the final game of Stuart Lancaster’s time with Leinster, and the former England head coach couldn’t ask for a bigger fixture to set the stage for his exit.

Lancaster was an inspired hire by Leo Cullen back in the summer of 2016 and together, the pair have transformed the province, enjoying huge success while bringing through a glut of exceptionally talented young players.

Yet winning a fifth Champions Cup title remains the big itch Leinster are yet to scratch. Beat La Rochelle in today’s final, and Lancaster can ride into the sunset on a high. Defeat would leave a feeling of unfulfilled potential in terms of European trophies delivered.

Lancaster’s impeding exit has loomed large over this fixture and speaking at Aviva Stadium yesterday, Garry Ringrose paid tribute to the departing Leinster senior coach.

“It would be hard to put into words or give full credit to the amount that he has helped me,” Ringrose said.

leinsters-garry-ringrose-during-a-press-conference-at-aviva-stadium-dublin-picture-date-friday-may-19-2023 Garry Ringrose speaking to the media yesterday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

“When he first came in, I was 21. From the off, he would have challenged guys. I’m trying to think of specific examples. As a young lad, I would have been used to going into a meeting and waiting to be told what to think or what to do and before he would talk about anything, he’d ask: What are your thoughts on the game?

“So he’d challenge you to have a point of view. He’d put you on the spot. It forced you to think, away from meetings, away from the pitch – when you were watching rugby, to think about it in a more analytical way, to give your genuine point of view. He didn’t mind what you said, it was to get you thinking. So that’s one example – after seven years of that, you build up a bit of rugby IQ.

“Say after games, he’d be really good at pulling individuals aside. He’d call you in for a meeting and say, ‘What did you think of the game?’ He’d have four or five clips and say, ‘What are your thoughts on this?’ And then he’d give his point of view. He’d call on previous experience and give you insights that were really helpful.

He is always great at showing other teams. In meetings, he might be like, ‘Look what La Rochelle did this week. Look what Saracens did this week and how effective it was for them. We should be able to emulate that or copy that.’

“Then from a leadership perspective, it’s close to his heart so he’d encourage everyone to be the best leader possible, so (he’d be) giving you tips, stuff from other sports. Watch this episode or sometimes he’d clip together 10 minutes of something he was watching and (get you to) watch that from a leadership perspective.

“As I say, that doesn’t do him justice, what he shows you about the intricacies of rugby and his rugby mind and stuff like that. Certainly I’ve benefited from that over the last few years.”

At one point, Lancaster even put a mic on Ringrose during training session in a bid to help the centre become more vocal on the pitch.

“I forgot about that!” Ringrose continued. ‘That’s another thing he did, he brought in a mic and mic-ed up a few players and we would watch it back, ‘What are you saying? What are you seeing?’, and challenging guys to come out of their shell.

I would have been really quiet and, like that, he’d challenge you every session and review it with you as well.

“I certainly would have been quiet and he would have encouraged me to step up, not to change my personality but recognising what the team needs and how you need to contribute to the team for the benefit of everyone. He definitely challenged guys to do that.”

James Ryan, who captains Leinster today, is another player who came through the senior ranks under Lancaster’s watch, making his breakthrough during the Englishman’s second season with the province.

“Yeah, a huge impact both on and off the pitch,” Ryan said.

He’s been brilliant. On the pitch, the way we play and that kind of Leinster DNA the club has always had, when we’ve been at our best he’s been a big part of that.

“And off field as well, as Leo touched on he does a huge amount of work in terms of personal growth and off-field development. He’s been brilliant in terms of things like leadership, bringing through the next crop of leaders in the club, and not teaching us but showing us a bit of direction there as well.

“So he’s added a huge amount in terms of his all-round contribution. We’ll miss him.”

A win today would be the dream send-off for Lancaster, as Leinster head into a home Champions Cup final against defending champions La Rochelle.

brian-odriscoll-scores-a-try-despite-the-tackle-of-rupeni-caucauibuca Ringrose (right background) celebrates Brian O'Driscoll's try against Agen in 2006. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

When asked for his earliest Champions Cup memories during yesterday’s media slot, Ringrose recalled Leinster’s 26-10 defeat of Agen at the old Lansdowne Road in 2006. Remarkably, photographic evidence of his attendance at the game was soon produced thanks to some swift detective work in the press benches.

I always remember one of my first games was in the old Lansdowne Road. I was so young, remember the winger, [Rupeni] Caucauibuca, I think was his name, for Agen.

“I was 7 or 8, I don’t actually know, I could have been older but the picture my uncle printed off for me was someone scored a try in the corner and I was in the background celebrating. The stadium was empty, well it wasn’t quite packed out as it will be (today).”

Today’s final is the first to be held in Dublin for 10 years, so this Leinster squad are fully aware that the opportunity to win a Champions Cup on home soil might not come around again during their careers.

“It’s difficult to sum up,” Ringrose added. “I grew up in Blackrock and live in Blackrock, which is only 20 minutes down the road, 25, 30 with a bit of traffic. I grew up going to games in Lansdowne Road, going to games in the RDS, coming to the Aviva, watching my heroes of the time play. And then to get a chance to actually do that…

“When you’re coming up through academies, you’re always chasing something but to get to stand back and say, now I’m actually here? It’s unbelievably special. And to have mates of mine getting onto me looking for tickets – unfortunately I can’t get a lot of them but my family is all gonna be there, mates all in the crowd and then hopefully a few more Leinster supporters, which is again another pinch-yourself moment when you truly think about it.”

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