What next for Leinster with Lancaster sealing his move to Racing 92?

The Englishman will leave an impressive legacy in Irish rugby.

Stuart Lancaster and Johnny Sexton.
Stuart Lancaster and Johnny Sexton.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

AN AUDIENCE WITH Stuart Lancaster is never anything less than intriguing. The Englishman can turn what could have been a boring press conference during the most mundane of weeks into a riveting lecture on the good, bad, and ugly of rugby.

Those glimpses of the depth of Lancaster’s passion for and knowledge of the sport suggest that the Leinster senior coach is relentlessly engaging behind the scenes. Reports from the players have backed that impression up.

Their reviews of his legendary ‘Stuesday’ training sessions barely need mention here again. Lancaster has guided Leinster to consistent excellence on the pitch and pushed individual players to new levels with his diligent, thoughtful coaching. His deep interest in the area of leadership has rubbed off on Leinster too, with several of the quieter squad members finding their voices in recent years.

Leinster’s players will be gutted to see him go, virtually to a man.

Lancaster will hope to sign off with another Champions Cup trophy, but one European and four URC titles, as well as consistent dominance of Irish rugby, mean he already has an impressive record. His coaching of Leinster has undoubtedly also had positive benefits for the Ireland team, given the overlap in personnel.

Coaches in the Leinster system and further afield will also tell you of Lancaster’s less obvious influence in their development. He was particularly generous with his time during the pandemic, leading many online seminars. He has graciously given of his time in person too, helping many ambitious coaches to better themselves.

While his tenure with England ended in gut-wrenching fashion with a pool stage exit at the home 2015 World Cup, much of what we’ve highlighted above applies there too. Eddie Jones has certainly benefitted hugely from Lancaster’s work since taking over.

Whatever way Leinster’s coaching team is reshuffled next season, the province know that Lancaster will leave superb foundations behind on the coaching front. He has run Leinster’s attack and defence in recent seasons, as well as leading the overall game-planning, individual player development plans, and much more.

It’s a busy job but Lancaster wouldn’t have it any other way. The man is a rugby obsessive and Racing 92 are getting one of the finest operators in the game. A report from RMC Sport in France says he has signed a four-year deal with the Top 14 side, starting next summer. 

stuart-lancaster Lancaster has been with Leinster since 2016. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

What will be most interesting is how Lancaster actually gets on over there. He has thrived working with Irish players who lap up his every word. French players aren’t always like that and it’s likely Lancaster will be challenged and questioned more. He comes across as open-minded and will back himself to adapt or convince his new Racing players to adapt.

There’s still one more season of Lancaster at Leinster, but the Irish province will need to get moving with future plans.

Current head coach Leo Cullen is also out of contract at the end of this season but his policy has been to sign short-term deals and as things stand, there has been no indication that he will step aside in the summer of 2023. Keeping him in the province will be crucial in ensuring continuity and Cullen has never really got the credit he deserves for Leinster’s success.

His role has shifted away from on-pitch coaching with Lancaster around, so whoever comes in will need to bring plenty of tactical, technical, and motivational nous. Indeed, it could even be that Cullen formally moves to a director of rugby job title in the next ticket.

There is scope for promotion from within. Attack coach Andrew Goodman joined the province from the Crusaders during the summer and brought with him a glowing reputation as a smart and innovative coach. He has been head coach of Tasman in his native New Zealand before working under Scott Robertson with the Crusaders. Promoting him into the lead coaching role would be similar to handing Michael Chieka and Joe Schmidt the reins in the past. Goodman is a rising star.

Then there’s current captain Johnny Sexton, who has been a player/coach for many years in all but name. He is influential in everything that Leinster and Ireland do on and off the pitch, he has strong opinions and beliefs about the game, and he is hugely respected.

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Sexton is expected to retire after the 2023 World Cup and he has spoken before about having some ambition to coach, although he worries about having to uproot like Ronan O’Gara and others have done. Keeping his rugby IQ in Leinster next season and beyond does make sense.

leo-cullen-with-andrew-goodman Andrew Goodman has an excellent reputation. Source: Ben Brady/INPHO

Leinster will have interest from all corners of the rugby globe. This is one of the leading teams in the world we’re talking about. There will be strong candidates putting their names forward.

Back before Cullen got the head coach gig, Leinster tried to lure the highly-regarded Tony Brown to the province. He opted to stay in New Zealand rugby and also still works with Japan, but he may be more amenable to trying life in Ireland after the 2023 World Cup.

Getting it right is a crucial job for Leinster. Current CEO Mick Dawson will be in the building until November when he hands over to newcomer Shane Nolan, who is joining from Google. Dawson’s presence now as Leinster deal with the initial planning for life post-Lancaster should be very helpful. 

Getting seven seasons out of Lancaster has to be seen as good going for Leinster. He has been repeatedly linked with jobs elsewhere, consistently attracting envious glances from other clubs. Now Racing have made their play and got their man.

Of course, Leinster gave Lancaster a home in which to rehabilitate his reputation after 2015. Some of the criticism at that time was deeply unfair but there’s no doubt that others wanted nothing to do with him when Leinster brought him in. 

It has been a smooth match that all parties hope will end on a major high this season before the next chapter begins.

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Murray Kinsella

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