Saturday 22 September 2018

Des Berry


It is understood that Leinster senior players, men like Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien, even the retiring Gordon D'Arcy and Shane Jennings, were not consulted in the decision-making process that ended with Matt O'Connor leaving Leinster.

The strong public backing from players over the last number of months meant they would not have been allies in any move to remove O'Connor.

Leinster's failure to make the PRO12 League Top-4 for the first time since the start of the play-offs in 2010 made him vulnerable.

In reality, the deteriorating relationship with the IRFU's Elite Performance Director David Nucifora and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt must have been central to the decision.

Nucifora and Schmidt called a press conference on April 23 to rebut criticisms made by O'Connor over the 'Player Welfare Programme.'

This was the moment his tenure was thrown into jeopardy.


It came one day before Leinster were due to confront Ulster in the match that confirmed their non-qualification for the PRO12 semi-finals.

There was also the ongoing under-current of disgruntlement by a section of the fan base over Leinster's inconsistency, even though more than 10,000 season tickets have been sold for 2015/2016.

The Australian took his leave this morning.

"I would like to thank my coaching team and the backroom staff for their support and for leaving no stone unturned in their pursuit of a performance every week," he said.

"I'd also like to thank the players for their application during my time there.

"They have been a pleasure to work with and I will look back on my time with great fondness for what we achieved together.

"Finally, to the supporters, thanks for making me and my family feel welcome during our time here and I wish Leinster Rugby the very best of luck for the future."

The decision flies in the face of rugby reason.

Okay, Leinster did not reach their potential this season in the PRO12, finishing in an unacceptable fifth with O'Connor consistently having to fire-fight accusations of under-performance.

In an overall context, O'Connor led the province to the PRO12 League last year and made the quarter-final in Europe where Leinster were dominated by Toulon.

This season, they earned a home berth in The Champions Cup quarter-final and came closer than any other club in three seasons to taking down the champions, bringing them into extra-time in the semi-final. In the south of France.

"We set high standards for ourselves and, for many reasons, we did not achieve those highs throughout the league this campaign," said O'Connor this morning.

"However, the European journey that we took over two seasons, for a new group of coaches, players and staff, is one that we can be very proud of.

"The dynamic in Europe has changed with meritocracy and fewer teams competing and this has improved the quality.

"We went toe to toe with the best and there is no shame in losing to Toulon by the smallest of margins and I'm extremely proud of the group and the character shown."

The fact O'Connor never lost the dressing-room means the players will feel they could have done more to improve the position of their coach.

Forwards coach Leo Cullen will take interim charge of the club with a search for the new coach already underway.

The new coach will come into a set-up whs many as 20 players could be at the World Cup in a season in which The Champions Cup starts two weeks after the end of RWC.

When Schmidt first came to Leinster he took time to get to know the players and to implement his rugby philosophy.

O'Connor knows the ins and outs of a complicated system, as well as the next tier of players ready to take Leinster forward.

He was and is the best man to oversee a job he no longer has.

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