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Saturday 1 November 2014

Right Guy behind plans for future

AS the Leinster squad enters the second-last block of games for the 2012/13 campaign, it is about ramping up more than winding down. February through May is what's commonly alluded to as the 'business end' of the season.

It's also the time when players' futures are decided, when seeds are sown for next year and plans are set in place. And though the role of the coach is to oversee the bigger picture as he bids to shape a side's assault on domestic and European titles, the often-times intense round after round of negotiations are usually undertaken by chief executive, director of rugby or team manager.

That process has been underway for some time and a lot of unseen work has been completed and, in most cases, put to bed.

After close to three years in the latter role, Guy Easterby knows at first-hand the importance of getting the job done. Though some players will leave at the close of play in May, the province expects to announce a batch of players that have re-signed and also some new signings over the coming weeks.

It is a job, he admits, that requires long hours and patience. But the positive end results are all that matters. "I enjoy working in a management role with Leinster because there are different challenges whenever you're trying to retain or recruit players," he said as the squad returned to full training after a week's break.

"At this time of year there's lots of activity going on with clubs trying to retain players whose contracts expire at the end of the season, and also clubs looking outside their current playing rosters in an attempt to strengthen their squads for the following season.

"When you're trying to attract a player from another club, or another country, you want to make sure that the environment in which you are hoping to bring them into is a positive one.

"As manager, part of my job is to do homework on potential recruits. The coaches will do a lot of work identifying certain players that they like in terms of their abilities and then we always factor in their personalities and attitudes as well because that is very important in us knowing that they will fit into the playing group off the pitch as well as on it.

"At Leinster we are pleased with the improvements we have made to our infrastructure. And though our new facilities in UCD are light years from where they were when I joined as a player back in 2004, a 20kg dumbbell is still the same weight whether you're in a brand-new gym or in a shed in your back garden!

"It's factors like hard work, discipline, skill and that little bit of luck that you always need that enable you to succeed in professional sport. And when you add in the quality of the coaches and trainers you work with as well as the players you train and play alongside, you hope that will help you get contracts over the finishing line, so to speak.

"As round after round of negotiations continue, you hope that the hard work will help result in what you hope will be a bright outcome.

"The real positive from a Leinster point of view is that invariably we have players that either want to remain here or want to come here. But sometimes meetings with one agent can take six or seven rounds. While negotiations with others might be more straight-forward.

"Really it depends on the agent or representative and the modus operandi of how he/she operates."

As the Six Nations roll into view, Easterby believes that Ireland are in good shape and can build up a head of steam in Cardiff tomorrow afternoon. Easterby has reason to enjoy visiting the venue, as most rugby-lovers also do, but knows Ireland will face into a typically spirited and talented Welsh side.

"The Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is always a special place to be in, be it as a player or as a spectator. I remember being involved for the first time with Ireland back in 2001 (which Ireland won 36-6), and to stand on the pitch before the game and listen to the anthems was an incredible feeling.

"Then when the game starts up and you hear 'Land of Our Fathers' or 'Bread of Heaven' reverberating around the stadium, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. I don't know what it is about the Welsh, but they're a nation blessed with good voices! They're also great rugby supporters who are passionate about their team, but respectful to sides who play the game positively.

Adrenalin

"It's the same when you play against Scotland or France. Both of their anthems really get the adrenalin going, but of course nothing gets the blood flowing like your own anthem. It's hard not to get sucked into the Six Nations because the interest levels are so big and I love watching all of the different countries compete. The first game, as ever, is huge because, as the saying goes, you can't win a Grand Slam on the first day but you can certainly lose one. But I think Ireland will do quite well if they can keep their key men on the field over the five games."

Following that first international experience, the former Leinster scrum-half (who earned 64 caps for the province over two spells) featured for a Llanelli side who clinched the 2002 WRU Cup, while the 2011 Heineken Cup is also a standout memory.

Next weekend will see a return to Cardiff when Leinster face the Blues in the first of a four-game block before another March break, which sees two home games -- against Benetton Treviso and the Scarlets in the RDS -- sandwiched between back-to-back away ties. It's a crunch period, Easterby says, as the scramble for top-four places intensifies.

"The players had a good week off to get away from rugby and their attitude in training over the last few days has been really positive. With players away on international duty, at this time of year the group is quite a bit smaller and they players are looking forward to getting their teeth stuck into the PRO12 for a few weeks. Even though there was disappointment that we didn't manage to get into the knockout stages of the Heineken Cup, the guys deserve a lot of credit for getting 10 points in the last two pool games. It wasn't to be and they've picked themselves up and are really focused on a massive few weeks ahead."

A big few weeks ahead indeed in the Land of Our Fathers.

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