Captain Lancaster

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.

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  1. krustie92

     /  September 5, 2016

    I definitely feel this isn’t the coach Leinster need. Like they topped the league last year even despite not playing fantastic so that would point to culture being reasonably in good nick. Like Munster I feel they need a systems guy set them up correctly.

    I feel Lancaster is a coach worth his place in a place like Connacht before Lam came in. He can bring teams up a few notches but I can’t see him driving them over the line.

    Be interesting to see how it works out. I don’t think this undermining thing is a big a deal as people are making out. Seems to be working out ok for Foley by all accounts and he was far more advanced along the career path than Cullen so its more undermining.

  2. Leinsterlion

     /  September 5, 2016

    I honestly fail to see what he can bring, he was massively overshadowed by his assistants in his England reign and as you say, what Leinster look to need is a technically minded coach, Lancaster doesnt fit that bill.

    Even from a defensive perspective, when has defence ever been his remit, seeing as he will be essentially replacing McQuilken. Lancaster will have to have undergone a hell of an evolution to bring anything to the table, an underwhelming a signing as MOC was. To me, Lancaster was, and is, an overpromoted coach, which on a coaching ticket made up of overpromoted coaches…spells pain.

  3. D6W

     /  September 5, 2016

    Totally agree, we need a technical coach who can turn our passive defence into a more aggressive weopan, and stop us leaking tries in the last quarter of games. Lancaster is not that.

    Make me wonder was Andy Farrell whispering in Nucifora’s ear?

  4. Really hard to know what to make of this situation. I never really rated Lancaster that much as a coach. He had some successes – a decent showing in four 6 Nations and a win over every team he played against at some stage. But that has to be put in the context of coaching England, a nation with plenty of players, cash and infrastructure. I can’t ever remember watching a game and thinking ‘that was a brilliant game plan by Lancaster’ whereas I can remember plenty of the opposite thought, especially when it came to using the bench. Does Jones’ success with England say more about Jones or Lancaster?

    All that said, a club like Leinster bringing a guy with the top level experience like Lancaster can only be a good thing right? Right? But like people have said, Leinster need a technical coach, not somebody who’s strengths seem to be in dishing out bland truisms about ‘the jersey’ and performing cheap media stunts with veterans or whatever. If Leinster needed to bring in somebody to sort of culture or return dignity back to the club etc, I can’t imagine a better person for that purpose than Cullen himself.

    I suppose we have to wait to see exactly is meant by ‘senior coach’. There could be a lot of muddying of roles, which did seem to be an issue towards the end of Lancaster’s time with England.

  5. D6W

     /  September 5, 2016

    Is it possible that IRFU are locking him to a job, in the knowledge that we soon may need a new Irish coach? Yikes, a Lancaster-Farrell coaching ticket. Please God, no!

  6. Hairy Naomh Mhuire

     /  September 5, 2016

    It just all seems so…………haphazard? arbitrary? opportunist? Henry in for two weeks. McQuilken forced to leave (obviously under difficult circumstances) so Lancaster is now a ‘senior’ coach without portfolio? To the end of the season? Hard to feel inspired by it all

  7. David

     /  September 5, 2016

    Ireland, where failed England coaches go to retire.

    Bizarely Most of the comments on the42 are positive. Seems crazy to me.

  8. curates_egg

     /  September 5, 2016

    Dunno. Not so pessimistic and willing to be open minded.

    The context is that McQuilkin’s departure made the already glaring need to expand our coaching team urgent. Sure we need skills and defensive coaches but we badly need outside thinking and urgently needed new personnel.

    England may have lacked a cutting edge when it counted under Lancaster but they played the most attractive rugby of any English side I have ever seen. Isn’t that what we want (along with winning)?

    Sure we all hoped for someone like Blackadder but too much doom and gloom here lads.

  9. Paddyo

     /  September 5, 2016

    Schmidt’s influence could be over this you know. When Farrell came in he spoke very favourably about England and the challenges they presented tactically, with and without the ball. Lancaster built a very decent England team from what was a bit of a mess and that absolutely deserves respect. The World Cup was an unmitigated disaster. It just was. From start to …..well… didn’t get much beyond the start. It happened, but it shouldn’t completely colour what he was and what he could be. So Leinster are getting a humble man, who has been humbled to the point of traumatised, but he is an experienced coach for a young man, someone who has given Joe Schmidt headaches.

    Its not what is happening, but I would’ve seen him as more the tactician where Cullen would step down to forwards and defence. That’s clearcut roles and responsibilities. This senior coach with a head coach beside him….what is that? But head coach, senior coach, whatever, I guess I personally want to see him on the pitch, organising, balling a few people out of it and doing practical and tangible things. I think he lost his way with all that specific number of caps stuff, Sam Burgess being a leader of men and all that sideshow that goes with being mike Bassett England manager, instead of getting his hands dirty and sorting things the hell out. He pretty much said this himself and has talked up his coaching a bit today, but is he that? I guess you have to go back to Leeds and I don’t know much about that.

    I do have to say though, if andy Farrell or Stuart Lancaster did a better presentation at the England team meeting than Gordon D’Arcy’s dissection in the Irish times following their wales game, then they are shrewd operators indeed. I realise that D’Arcy under Cullen would be very inexperienced and in-house, but seems to me writing in the IT is a bit of a waste of that man’s brain. Anyway, that’s off topic.

    The final obvious big plus with Lancaster is that it should help the continuity between the province and team Ireland. Farrell doing defence with Ireland and Lancaster apparently doing defence with leinster. Presumably they have a decent working relationship and things will be smooth there. We are maybe back to Schmidt’s fingerprints methinks.

    • SportingBench

       /  September 6, 2016

      Ignoring the RWC Lancaster did a decent (but not outstanding) job for England. England played some decent stuff and some players improved and developed under his watch but seemed a bit lacking in ruthlessness or directional leadership.
      I wonder if Lancaster is good coach and number 2 and therefore this role suits him.
      He can improve the team and assist Cullen but the flaws which lead to the RWC disaster matter less here as Cullen is the one tasked with providing the leadership (off the pitch) and general direction. Having Lancaster there may also free him up to get on top of that too.

  10. Peter Byrne

     /  September 6, 2016

    Best little country in the world for knocking people, we have a person of high integrity, real ability to manage at the highest level , willing to take on an unexpected role in our team. My advice is withhold evaluation until comprehension is complete. Well done to all in Leinster who managed a very difficult and unexpected situation with Kurt leaving and a warm Leinster Rugby welcome to Stuart.

  11. I feel that this is a decent appointment for Leinster. I believe Lancaster’s hand was forced from the start by the antics of an England squad in disarray at the WC in 2011. I would assume the power players that appointed him as England coach in 2011 did so with the objective of putting the team in the good books.
    Ultimately, it was his selection choices that let him down, Sam Burgess and not sticking on an out-half being the obvious ones. Hartley was banned 5 times for a length of 28 weeks during Lancaster’s time in charge, yet still started 25 and came off the bench in 7 of England’s 39 matches before the World Cup.5
    He won’t be the one picking the side at Leinster, which removes selection from the list of issues, and there isn’t the abhorrent lack of leadership on the field at Leinster that there was for the English national team.

  12. ogriofac

     /  September 9, 2016

    This seems to me to be a result of the timing of McQuilkin’s unfortunate departure more than anything, no? The coaching staff at Leinster are quite inexperienced, and Lancaster was available, they probably saw it as best to get him in rather than leave the position open for a few months/an entire season. Not a like for like replacement, but he’s a competent coach and has experience of the highest level so it’s better than not having anyone in there.

    I mean how many top class defence coaches are there, and how many are available at this point in the season? Does it not make sense to have him in to fill the gap then use the season to identify and persuade a top coach who does fit the bill to come in after his tenure?

    As someone pointed out he was overshadowed by Farrell, and had a poor World Cup, but none of that speaks to his coaching abilities, but are an indictment of him as a head coach. That’s not his role here. There’s no point in arguing that you shouldn’t hire a brickie because he was a poor site manager in his last job. He’s still a decent brickie.

    I do have concerns over the fact that he seems to have a poorly defined brief though. In his comments he said he’s happy to work under Cullen because he doesn’t know the players or the culture, not because he respects Cullen’s position. He also said he has a brief over Defence but wants to influence attack too, and also get involved in the academy.

    We have people doing those jobs Stuart, and you clearly don’t have the profile or credentials to land a job with that kind of brief at a top tier club, or you would have gotten one. Eat your humble pie and let’s see how you get on with the remit you were actually brought in for. (Which may need to be spelled out a little more cearly).

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