herald

Monday 18 December 2017

A wise Guy to steer Blues

Thorn-y issue of contracts and player discipline in |safe hands with Easter

MORE than 12 years playing professional rugby taught Guy Easterby a thing or two about the nuances of the game.

Some 28 international caps, as well as more than 150 club appearances for Rotherham, London Scottish, Ebbw Vale and Llanelli gave him a valuable insight into the running of different clubs across different rugby cultures.

So when the Yorkshire-born former scrum-half was appointed to the role of team manager in the summer of 2010 it was a chance to pass on some of that experience to a province which he also served well over 68 provincial appearances, over two spells.

A term in the then newly created role of head scout under Michael Cheika helped formalise a structure between the local and international recruitment links. Upon Joe Schmidt’s arrival in 2010, the job spec seamlessly evolved into a manager’s role which had previously laid vacant for the previous four years.

Substitute any preconceived notions of ‘manager’ that you might have from the dark ages of pro sport, namely football; the trench coat, peaked cap and drawn-looking middle-aged man.

Though not quite a ‘No Country For Old Men’ scenario, the manager’s role has evolved to embrace the technological age as well as the increased demands of players and management away from the field of play.

“An important aspect of my job would be to act as a conduit between the professional team and the administration side of the operation,” Easterby says, “while also dealing with any off-field management and player issues that might arise on a day-to-day basis.

“An example of something that I would be involved in is the impending move to UCD.

“It is something that is important for us to get right so that we can keep Leinster Rugby moving forward.

“I would also deal with any disciplinary issues that are deemed serious enough for the management to get involved in. The great thing about the group of players that we have is that they have their own standards and therefore these issues are few and far between.

“When the scouting role was in its infancy stages, Cheiks (Michael Cheika) saw it as an opportunity for him to move away from dealing one-on-one with agents and players regarding recruitment. So that became an area where I provided support and now it is one of the major components of my role.

“Player recruitment is an ongoing process. From being a player myself I understand how it feels to be in the last year of a contract so we have made a conscious effort to try and deal with players as early in the season as possible.”

With a number of player contracts in the process of being tied down, Easterby says that the negotiation process can be ultimately fruitful, but time-consuming.

“This is especially the case when we are looking at signing a non-Irish eligible player, as 99 times out of 100 you are not the only club interested in a particular player.

“Obviously we are looking at cover for second row at the moment and we are interested in Brad Thorn, but because he’s contracted to another club it’s not that straightforward. We should know if we have been successful in the next week or two. He is an outstanding talent who would give us an extra option in a position where we are light at the moment.

“It’s not just about attracting players; succession planning is an ongoing challenge. For example, I work very closely with Colin McEntee (academy manager), in trying to see where the next players are coming through and in which areas we might be a little light moving forward.

“When we promote players from within on our own system, or when we are looking to bring players in, we place a significant emphasis on whether the player will live by the values we have.

“Factors such as the stability in the club, the loyalty of the supporters and the success which the Leinster team has enjoyed in recent years certainly makes the job of keeping our current players and attracting others that bit easier.”

Easterby was the Leinster scrum-half in April 2006 when the province recorded one of their most famous Heineken Cup victories on the road in Toulouse. And he was in the Ireland squad in March 2000 when Brian O’Driscoll sealed a famous hat-trick of tries which, some say, kicked off an era of success on the road at both provincial and national levels.

Talk of French rugby leads into thoughts of tomorrow’s trip to Paris.

“I don’t buy into all the doom and gloom that’s around after the Wales defeat,” Easterby stresses. “It is difficult to win in Paris but it is not impossible.

“The French were a little flattered by the scoreline against Italy. If we can play to our potential we will definitely be in the game.”

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