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Thursday 27 July 2017

Coaching duo give Leinster a stable future

Cullen and Lancaster sign up to put Blues first again
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen

It is understood Leinster have agreed terms to have coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster in place for at least the next two years.

This good news story will copper-fasten The Blues' stability moving forward as they continue their bid to return to the high table of the club game at home to Wasps in The Champions Cup quarter-final on Saturday.

Head coach Cullen's contract extension has never been in doubt.

The three-time winning Heineken Cup captain has been learning on the job since making the move into coaching with responsibility for the forwards in 2014.

He formed a close working relationship with then head coach Matt O'Connor and was not, in any way, part of the decision to move the Australian on.

When Cullen was handed 'an offer he couldn't refuse' to succeed O'Connor, it was a gamble based on his limited experience and limitless potential.

The employment of backs coach Girvan Dempsey and scrum coach John Fogarty did nothing to deepen the vault of experience, leaving Kurt McQuilkin's contribution from defence to be the mainstay.

In tandem with other factors, it meant Leinster lacked the authority and know-how to get out of the Pool in last season's Champions Cup.

Question

This even prompted Jonathan Sexton to question how the culture had changed - and not for the better - since his return from Racing 92.

There was consolation in making it to the PRO12 League final, but not in how they played when they got there against Connacht at Murrayfield last May.

Leinster Senior Coach Stuart Lancaster
Leinster Senior Coach Stuart Lancaster

It has been reported that Cullen was the man behind the short, intensive consultancy work of World Cup winning coach Graham Henry.

Following on from that, he was supportive of the one-year involvement of another coach with an experienced curriculum vitae.

The man from Newtownmountkennedy showed a complete absence of ego in reaching out for a hand.

That hand belonged to Lancaster, a coach publicly damaged by England's failure at their own 2015 Rugby World Cup.

However, the 47-year-old Cumbrian career coach appears to be exactly what Leinster needed, impressing those on the inside with his direct style and knowledge of the game.

Forced to retire from the game at 30, Lancaster worked his way through the Leeds Academy system, becoming the Leeds Carnegie Director of Rugby in 2005, England's Elite Rugby Director in 2008, England Saxons coach and England's head coach in 2011.

He came to Leinster with a reputation in need of rehabilitation and cluster of internationals with which to work.

You could say, they have needed each other. Lancaster has been linked with a host of openings, especially in The Premiership, all season long.

He had been rumoured to be on his way to Bristol for Andy Robinson, Leicester Tigers for Richard Cockerill, Worcester Warriors for Dean Ryan, even Connacht for Pat Lam.

In the week in which there has been a cloud cast over Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus's long-term commitment to Munster, Lancaster and Leinster have come to an agreement to extend what has been a mutually beneficial relationship.

Meanwhile, the venues for the Champions Cup semi-finals have been announced.

If Leinster Rugby defeat Wasps, they will travel to France to meet either Clermont Auvergne or Toulon.

If Leinster engage Clermont, it will take place at the Matmut Stadium de Gerland in Lyon.

If Toulon provide the opposition, the game will be played at the Allianz Riviera Stadium in Nice.

If Munster Rugby and holders Saracens win their quarter-finals, Munster will have home country advantage in the semi-final at The Aviva Stadium.

Should Munster come through against Toulouse and Glasgow overturn Saracens, the Irish will travel to Murrayfield for that semi-final engagement.

First things first.

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