By Brendan O’Brien
Matt O’Connor has paid the price for Leinster’s woeful season with the news that his time in charge has come to an end.
The Australian’s three-year contract has been terminated, reportedly by mutual consent, with 12 months still to run after a season which saw the province come within inches of a place in the Rugby Champions Cup final but fail to make the play-off stages of the Guinness PRO12.
A statement released by the club shortly after 10am on Thursday morning confirmed that the decision had been made after a meeting of the Professional Games Board and that forwards coach Leo Cullen would take over in an interim basis.
A search for a successor is already underway.
"During Matt's time here we won the PRO12 during his first season and have made progress in both European campaigns,” said Leinster CEO Mick Dawson. “Matt will leave Leinster Rugby with the best wishes and thanks of all involved with the province for all his hard work during his two years.
"We wish Matt the very best of luck for the future and thank him sincerely for his contribution to Leinster.”
O’Connor’s first campaign with the club was also mixed, though it ended with silverware when Leinster claimed the ‘domestic’ league title having exited the Heineken Cup via a defeat away to reigning and eventual champions Toulon in the last eight.
The province struggled for form and fluency throughout that season but produced two notable performances, away to Northampton in December and in the PRO12 final at the RDS when a capable Glasgow side was thoroughly dismantled.
There have been no such high points this time around with the side stuttering through a favourable European pool containing Wasps, Harlequins and Castres and seeing off Bath with some discomfort at the Aviva before falling again to Toulon in France.
Yet it is Leinster’s league form which has done for the former Leicester Tigers coach.
A woeful run through the Six Nations and in its aftermath saw the side claim just one win and two draws from seven games and fall out of the play-off places before two wins against Treviso and Edinburgh belatedly secured their Champions Cup qualification.
"I am disappointed and frustrated with our form in the PRO12 this season,” explained O'Connor in the club statement. "We set high standards for ourselves and for many reasons, we did not achieve those highs throughout the league this campaign.
"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. 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.
"I'd also like to thank the players for their application during my time here. 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.”