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Storming, norming, performing - Lancaster keeps Leinster focused

The province’s senior coach hasn’t been wasting his time back home in Leeds.

RATHER UNSURPRISINGLY, STUART Lancaster hasn’t been wasting his time in lockdown back home in Leeds.

The Leinster senior coach returned to the UK when rugby was put on hold but he has been busy working to keep Leinster focused even in difficult circumstances, while also showing a characteristic willingness to share his knowledge.

Lancaster has delivered a range of online presentations in recent weeks, including but not limited to an attack session for 70 or 80 All-Ireland League coaches, a defence webinar for the same AIL coaches, an attack philosophy masterclass for more than 2,000 RFU coaches, a leadership seminar for business people, and a coach development session with around 1,000 GAA coaches.

stuart-lancaster Lancaster has been sharing his knowledge via online presentations. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

For Lancaster, these opportunities to engage and share with coaches have been one of the positives of the lockdown. Studying copious amounts of rugby footage has been another.

“I’m not watching games for nostalgia but I’m watching loads of games,” said Lancaster today on a videoconference call. “I’ve really enjoyed doing those coach development things online too.

“Remote coaching is something I’ve enjoyed doing. It has forced me to go back and gather clips and give examples.

“It has also made me reflect on all these principles I learned as a teacher and try to relate them to Gaelic football, for example.

“There’s a lot of games I wanted to watch and I’ve been lucky to get the wide camera view of the World Cup [from behind play], particularly the knock-out games. 

“I’ve wanted to analyse them and then feed them back to our playing group at the right time, explaining why things happened – for example, England beating New Zealand and then losing to South Africa.”

Not being able to work with his players in person is a challenge for Lancaster but there has been plenty of work to keep the Leinster ship moving forward.

“For example, I did a WhatsApp [video] message to the group which was about what we have achieved this season and the areas that have gone well, where we can improve, what we can achieve in this window, then where we can go in the future,” says Lancaster.

stuart-lancaster Leinster can't train together but Lancaster hopes they can still improve. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“We have got a very young team and we’ve obviously got a blend of youth and experience, so it’s just trying to keep that fire ignited in them. Hopefully, this will end and we want to come back in a better shape than when we left it.

“We have been sending stuff through to the players more as units, forwards and backs, just to keep the grey matter ticking over and they are obviously doing their training when and how they can.

“Everyone’s rolling their sleeves up and trying to do what’s in front of them. 

“One of the analogies I gave in that video I recorded for the players was from Richard Parks, a former Welsh back rower who has done various challenges around the world like walking up Everest. 

“He has done solo expeditions to the South Pole and he talked about his process of walking on his own in isolation – going through ‘storming, norming, and performing’.

“The storming bit is battling on, trying to get going. The norming bit is getting used to it. Then the performing piece is where you’re making progress in that goal of walking in isolation to the South Pole. 

“I thought it was a good analogy for the players, who are in that process. I think we all are. My routine, your routine, everyone’s routine has fallen into place and I think we’re adapting.”

Lancaster mentions his most recent in-the-flesh training session with Leinster at least three times over the course of 30 minutes, suggesting that he is very much missing being out on the pitch with the players.

stuart-lancaster-arrives Lancaster says rugby will have to take "baby steps" towards returning. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Everyone has had to adapt and it remains unclear when rugby will return but Lancaster is determined to ensure Leinster – who were unbeaten this season before it was put on hold – come back in good shape.

“In that session in Energia Park, we had 45 players training,” says Lancaster. “We picked three teams and had such a positive vibe about what we were doing.

“We had the reintegration of the Ireland players, plus the development of young lads like Ryan Baird and Harry Byrne, that piece was handled really well.

“Now, my relationship with the players has been on a global scale, more bigger picture, more about things for them to think about, what we learned and what we can do better.

“Obviously, there have been individuals we have caught up with but I’m mindful of players managing their own personal situations too. The last thing you want to do as a coach is overplay your hand in this window. You’ve got to have that balance.”

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Murray Kinsella

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