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Monday 22 April 2019

Lancaster is key to fixing broken men

Ex-England coach can repair Blues confidence

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster at squad training
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster at squad training

Will Ireland's broken men undo Leinster? That is the question on the lips of many as Leo Cullen has to work out how to accompany a change of environment with a change of outcome.

No one will ever figure out how much the Grand Slam fed into the Champions Cup and PRO14 League double last season.

It certainly had to have added the confidence no one could take away from them. Not Saracens. Not Scarlets, Not Racing 92.

It is human nature in a business with a bottom line that starts and ends with winning and losing that it is a lot easier to continue doing one than to arrest the other.

The fact that Ireland's Six Nations campaign was book-ended by losses to England and Wales will sit in the psyche of Ireland's best until the next time they come together.

Can that virus fester and spread to cause a beating in Blue?

In the meantime, Leinster, Ulster, Munster and Connacht will just have to get on with getting on.

No doubt, Leinster have been assisted in their transition into Champions Cup mode by the pairing with their provincial rivals on Saturday. Imagine the challenge of travelling to Saracens or Racing 92 with just one week back together since the middle of January to deal with the Six Nations fallout?

Perhaps Stuart Lancaster will be the key to the locker room. No one has suffered more deeply, or for longer, from losses than England's former head man.

The Cumbrian career coach was hounded from office in November, 2015 after the host nation imploded at the Rugby World Cup.

It wasn't until Cullen dialled his number that Lancaster felt that enough healing had taken place to jump back into slightly more shallow waters.

The time and the club was right for Lancaster to return to the game in September 2016.

In fairness, he has been at the heart of Leinster's climb back to the top of the club game.

The decision of the 49-year-old to agree to a two-year contract extension last week is a reflection on his loyalty to Leinster.

No doubt, he could have returned to the Premiership and taken charge of a traditional powerhouse. After all, he has regularly been mentioned in dispatches this season as a front- runner for various jobs.

Signed on

Instead, the coveted coach has signed on for his fourth and fifth years, at least, of making the weekly flight from Leeds to Leinster.

"I'm looking forward, now the Six Nations is over, to getting the whole squad back together for the run in now," he said last week.

"We've some great games around the corner, hopefully semi-finals and finals to come."

The pathway back to the gold medal games will not be without bumps and bruises.

"We need to earn the right to do that," he added.

"It'll be nice to have the squad together for the whole of the run-in before the World Cup camp starts."

Lancaster does radiate the personality of 'a father figure' to a group of men still finding their way in the game.

For example, James Ryan, Jordan Larmour and Andrew Porter have not had to handle too much adversity in their short careers, at least not on the field of play.

It is not that they won't be able to handle it, move on, not let the last two months impinge on the next two months.

It is just that they h ave someone who has the personal experience of knowing where they are coming from.

The difference is that the players will have another chance to make amends for Ireland.

Lancaster was turfed out when all his plans were shredded by Wales and Australia in 2015.

Back then, he couldn't even point to a Six Nations title as proof of a winning pedigree.

"The Six Nations is a very tough competition if you don' t win all of your games.

"If you lose one game, you are under pressure," said Lancaster.

"I know that from experience. I had four Six Nations and lost once in each.

"The magnifying glass really comes on individuals, the team performances and the coaches."

It is one thing to guide Leinster's Grand Slam winners to more club glory.

It would be even greater to do it with broken men.

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