Thursday 20 September 2018

Why Matt O'Connor was IRFU's public enemy No1

Decision to axe Leinster's Head Coach is short-sighted and for all the wrong reasons

Leo Cullen

IT is a poor state of affairs when Leinster Rugby bows to the opinion of their fans and commercial concerns instead of extensively canvassing the opinions of those who know best - the coaches and the senior players.

Matt O'Connor's back-up brigade of Leo Cullen, the forwards coach, Richie Murphy, the skills and kicking coach, and Marco Caputo, the scrum coach, were left outside the loop of opinions on the best way forward for Leinster Rugby.

Three-time Heineken Cup winning captain Cullen has been part of the furniture at the province since 1995 and would have been a strong research resource.


The players were informed of the Leinster Professional Games Board decision yesterday morning and are known to be upset by the ending of O'Connor's tenure.

The decision is stunningly short-sighted in terms of the road ahead for the new headman with Cullen taking over the mantle of interim coach.

The answer to the problem is unlikely to lie within, just yet.

Cullen is one year into his apprenticeship as a forwards coach.

Murphy will be an assistant at the Word Cup with Ireland.

Underneath them, Girvan Dempsey has just dipped his toes into his role as The Academy Manager.

In other words, the new coach will have to enter into an environment in which Leinster could be without anything up to 20 players for pre-season and the length of the World Cup.

Even Joe Schmidt's methods took time to work. He lost three out of his first four in September 2010.

The retention of O'Connor would have left in place a man well-aware of all the players in the system and motivated to make his third season at least as successful as his first.

Leinster have left it very late in the day to search out a first-class coach, who can assess, evaluate and influence a list of players unknown to him.

There is also the criticism from O'Connor on how he had his hands tied by the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme in which Ireland's internationals are limited to 640 minutes in the blue jersey rather than eight games.

It is difficult to build continuity and progress on the back of change and a rotating selection policy.

For instance, Leinster new signing Ben Te'o has had to deal with a number of centre partners as he has continued the transition from League to Union.

"I've found the way things are set up here it's quite different," he said last week.

"I came into the team and then you've guys disappearing for Six Nations.

"Then you've got guys coming back with bumps and bruises, Europe, Pro12, you're resting guys - 'he can't play, because he's played too much' or 'he's injured'.

"It's always the team chopping and changing," he said.

"Here, sometimes we go from one forward pack to a whole new one. I found that interesting, but that's just rugby and you have to juggle these players and their loads."

This sort of player limitation and interference comes with the territory. Schmidt had to cope with it. O'Connor too.

The question is: will a coach in demand around the world want to work under those restrictions?

Schmidt came to Leinster as an assistant coach. He had to live with the restrictions placed on him and work within the system.

O'Connor came as a head coach. His typical, understandable Australian stubbornness meant he wasn't as willing to play the game behind closed doors.

He became the IRFU's very public enemy number one and that was his downfall.


Contenders to be next Blues boss


THERE is a school of thought that Matt O’Connor paid the price for his convivial nature, that Leinster need an authoritarian figure to drive the environment.

The winning culture that has been built on the back of years of heartbreak is beginning to grow thin with those who remain.

Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen finished last year; Gordon D’Arcy and Shane Jennings this year.

There must be a general feeling of responsibility among the current players that they have failed O’Connor.

The fact is Leinster, the brand, has to be carried forward by the next generation of players, who have not had to suffer the slings of ‘ladyboys’, the arrows of ‘chokers’.

The next man in the door might have to bring ‘the fear factor’ and the intensity of the two men who made Leinster – Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt.

Here is a list of four outstanding candidates.


THE former Wallaby coach now resides in Japan where he  coaches the Panasonic Wild Knights.

Robbie Deans

He oversaw the Canterbury Crusaders unbeaten Super Rugby season in 2002 and coached Australia for five years until The Lions series in 2013. 


Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie looks on in the post match press conference where he anounced his resignation as Wallabies coach at the end of the Rugby Championship match against the New Zealand All Blacks. Photo credit: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

THE other former Wallaby coach left his post last year in controversial, even scandalous circumstances and is not currently working as a coach.

He earned a shot at the top job by brilliantly guiding Queensland Reds to the Super Rugby title in 2011.   


Alex King in action for Wasps during his playing days

THE ex-Wasps and England out-half spent three seasons working with Schmidt at Clermont-Auvergne.

Since then, King has moved to Northampton Saints as their backs coach where he has extended his contract to the summer of 2016/2017.    


Former All Blacks backs coach Wayne Smith. Photo: Getty Images

THE Waikato Chiefs assistant coach is revered throughout the world.

He was a central figure in New Zealand’s 2011 World Cup win and in The Chiefs back-to-back Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013.

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