Huzzah! Leinster have a new “senior coach”! Who’ll report to the “head coach” – Leo Cullen. And it’s none other than … drum roll … Stuart Lancaster, last seen sloping off the rugger scene after England’s disastrous RWC15. Which is interesting. In the Steve Davis sense.
Thing is, Nucifora has taken a few public pops at
everyone Leo Cullen, making it pretty clear he thinks Leinster should have appointed a bigger, more experienced name – so the fact he is getting some external help isn’t really that much of a surprise. Indeed, Graham Henry popped by to look sullen in a long training jacket for two weeks this summer – and was impressed by the ruck-hitting ability of Leinster’s wingers Joey Carbery, for one. So a more experienced name coming in was to be expected.
But, taking a broader view of Leinster in the post-Schmidt era, the best word to describe their football would be: muddled. They don’t seem to know how they want to play, and have seemingly lost the ability to catch and pass the football. Matt O’Connor put big emphasis on empowering the players after years of Cheika and Schmidt micro-strategising, but that didn’t work out. Cullen came in last season, at least one season before planned, and had a steep learning curve. The squad is deep and stacked, but it feels like the team don’t really know what they are doing, and haven’t (yet) bought into Cullen’s vision. They just don’t seem to be able to get it done (except against Ulster).
If you were to make an argument for what Leinster actually needed, you would say a strong technical coach, someone to work on their skills and give them the tools to execute on-field. What you would say they don’t need is a delegator to come in and talk in broad brushes about culture or whatever. England under Lancaster seemed to change tactics annually and centre partnership by series and were an utter dogs dinner by the time the big gig came around. It’s hard to actually define what Lancaster brings to the table. And for a group that feels like it is begging for clarity and a mission, that’s a bit worrying.
Lancaster’s main contribution to English rugby was a much heralded change to the culture within the squad, creating a jolly-hockeysticks-upstanding-chaps atmosphere where previously they were a dwarf-throwing shambles. Or so it seemed at the time, but that’s been largely discredited since Eddie Jones came in and named Dylan Hartley as captain and reverted to a no-one likes us, we don’t care mentality.
Since the England shindig fell apart Lancaster has had stints with Atlanta Falcons, British Cycling’s world-class performance programme, the English FA and Counties Manukau. Make of that what you will. Soaking up experience at the sharp end of sports science or running out to get coffees for Brailsford et al? Who really knows?
That said, when Gregor Townsend was attack coach for Scotland, they hadn’t scored a try in about a year when he left the setup. He got the top job at Glasgae, set about creating an exciting and dynamic attacking unit and is now going back as big kahuna next summer. So maybe Lancaster will show us insights we didn’t know he possessed in the deadening corporate chatshow that was his England team. Here’s hoping.