Lan­caster team­ing up with Far­rell would be log­i­cal next step for dom­i­nant Ire­land

Le­in­ster’s for­mer Eng­land coach works with bulk of the squad al­ready and might be in­trigued by chal­lenge of re­turn­ing to top level of the game

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

Euro­pean rugby re­turns next week­end, and all eyes – mine in­cluded – will be on the cham­pi­ons, Le­in­ster. Af­ter Ire­land’s all-con­quer­ing au­tumn, more than ever it feels as if Leo Cullen’s men are the team to beat in Euro­pean rugby’s big­gest club com­pe­ti­tion.

That is rather stat­ing the ob­vi­ous, of course. Le­in­ster play the best rugby. They have the best play­ers. And cru­cially, they can af­ford to rest the best play­ers. Not one of their stars who played in Ire­land’s dra­matic win against New Zealand in Dublin last month (Le­in­ster pro­vided over half the team, with Cian Healy, Tadhg Fur­long, James Ryan, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier, Johnny Sex­ton, Garry Rin­grose and Rob Kear­ney all in the start­ing XV) played in their Pro 14 match at the Dragons yes­ter­day. And that was de­spite hav­ing last week­end off as well, with Ire­land putting out a sec­ond-string team to face the United States.

Can any­thing de­rail Le­in­ster? I am not sure. But one thing which might al­ter the dy­namic just a lit­tle bit – al­beit not this sea­son – would be if se­nior coach Stu­art Lan­caster joined Andy Far­rell at Ire­land af­ter next year’s World Cup.

The an­nounce­ment that Far­rell is to suc­ceed Joe Sch­midt post-Ja­pan 2019 is an ab­so­lutely fas­ci­nat­ing devel­op­ment and I am in­trigued to see how it plays out. It is clear that he is part of a very pos­i­tive coach­ing en­vi­ron­ment that has been built up around the prov­inces and the na­tional team.

Clearly he lacks ex­pe­ri­ence as a No 1 but you only need to lis­ten to the play­ers with whom he has worked to re­alise in what es­teem he is held. Re­mem­ber, he has two Li­ons tours with War­ren Gat­land un­der his belt. War­ren al­ways holds on to good peo­ple, and it is that ap­proach which has given the sta­bil­ity to Wales through their sup­port group. He will cer­tainly have a sta­ble base from which to start. To my mind, the big ques­tion is who he might bring in to work un­der him. Could the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union pos­si­bly ex­tend an in­vi­ta­tion to Stu­art, who has rein­vented him­self so suc­cess­fully at Le­in­ster? I can see it hap­pen­ing, I re­ally can.

Stu­art is al­ready un­der an IRFU con­tract. The power­bro­kers within Ir­ish rugby, not to men­tion the play­ers with whom Stu­art works day to day at Le­in­ster, clearly rate him very highly. He is al­ready work­ing with half the Ir­ish squad, which would help with the tran­si­tion.

It would make sense from a fam­ily point of view, too, with Stu­art con­tin­u­ing to com­mute from Leeds as it stands. The in­ter­na­tional cal­en­dar would al­low him longer pe­ri­ods at home.

I gen­uinely think Stu­art would be in­trigued by the chal­lenge. And, of course, it would raise the prospect of Eng­land com­ing up against two coaches who they al­lowed to travel across the Ir­ish Sea.

Stu­art and Andy know and trust each other from their Eng­land days. I do not think it would be an is­sue that their roles would be re­versed, with Stu­art work­ing un­der Andy rather than the other way around.

Stu­art’s hu­mil­ity is one of his great­est strengths.

By his own ad­mis­sion, he felt as if he was be­ing pulled in too many di­rec­tions to­wards the end of his time at Eng­land. It’s prob­a­bly his big­gest re­gret.

He prefers to fo­cus on the coach­ing. And he is clearly an ex­cep­tional coach.

I was in­trigued to read Sam Burgess’s thoughts on the 2015 World Cup, which he pub­lished on Twit­ter this week, al­leg­ing that “in­di­vid­ual egos” and “self­ish play­ers” were to blame for Eng­land’s pool­stage exit at the tour­na­ment, and had “cost the coach and other great men” their jobs.

I do not know to whom Burgess was re­fer­ring but what I do know is that Stu­art has al­ways been an out­stand­ing coach.

And when he is able to fo­cus on that – as he is now do­ing for Le­in­ster – the re­sults speak for them­selves. Le­in­ster did lose their last Cham­pi­ons Cup match, ad­mit­tedly, by a point away at Toulouse but that is about all they have lost over an in­cred­i­ble 12 months.

I can­not see them slip­ping up in terms of qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Toulouse are top of the group and look to have their swag­ger back. But they still have to travel to Dublin.

It is a fas­ci­nat­ing time of the sea­son. I love this back-to-back Euro­pean dou­ble header. A cou­ple of wins can set you up for the fes­tive pe­riod and the prospect of qual­i­fy­ing for the knock­out stages next year. A cou­ple of de­feats can ef­fec­tively end your Euro­pean run and leave you star­ing at a long do­mes­tic dog­fight. It’s real make-or­break stuff.

Pool One, as I say, is in­trigu­ingly poised with Toulouse top on eight points. But they have a tough trip to Wasps next week­end with Dai Young’s team know­ing that any­thing but a win will prob­a­bly mean they

Stu­art and Andy know and trust each other from their days to­gether at Eng­land

Any­thing but a win for Wasps over Toulouse may mean they are dumped out

are dumped out of Europe in the pool stages. And Toulouse know that they have Le­in­ster lurk­ing just two points back. Bath will have to play ex­cep­tion­ally well to get any­thing out of the Euro­pean cham­pi­ons at the Rec next Sat­ur­day.

In Pool Two, Ex­eter are bot­tom but they have the ad­van­tage of play­ing Glouces­ter at home in the first game of their dou­ble header. I think that is a real ad­van­tage in terms of build­ing mo­men­tum.

Glouces­ter have moved on this sea­son, with Danny Cipri­ani ob­vi­ously hav­ing made a big im­pact. Some of their rugby has been great. But Ex­eter will have their in­ter­na­tional con­tin­gent back. And af­ter Premier­ship suc­cess in 2017, they are des­per­ate to prove them­selves on the Euro­pean stage. Like Wasps, the Chiefs know they have to win. I can­not see them slip­ping up.

The other group that catches my eye is Pool Five. Who could have fore­seen that New­cas­tle, strug­gling in the Premier­ship af­ter the highs of last sea­son, would be top af­ter two games?

Their trip to Ed­in­burgh on Fri­day night is an­other re­ally in­ter­est­ing fix­ture. Richard Cock­er­ill has done a won­der­ful job there, but Ed­in­burgh are still not as con­sis­tent as Glas­gow. I would not put it past New­cas­tle to win.

Dream team? Stu­art Lan­caster and Andy Far­rell worked to­gether at Eng­land and could do the same with Ire­land

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.