Rob Kearney is torn.
The Leinster and Ireland full-back knows just how good Stuart Lancaster has been for his club so he understands just what an addition he would be to Andy Farrell’s Ireland set-up were he co-opted into the national set-up after the World Cup.
Lancaster and Farrell worked together with England before they made their separate migrations across the Irish Sea and the latter’s elevation to Ireland head coach once Joe Schmidt departs next year has led inevitably to thoughts that the pair could team up again.
“Yeah, it’s a tough one,” said Kearney. “I’ve got two hats on: a green one and a blue one. Stuart is an integral part of the province here: the team, how we play and the success we’ve had over the last couple of years.
“So, if he was to leave it would be a pretty big void to try and fill. There hasn’t been a huge amount of talk about it (in the Leinster dressing-room). Certainly, for players it is a year away and so much can change within a year. But certainly Stuart is a huge part of the club.”
Kearney described Farrell’s planned succession as a “natural progression” and is sure that the pregnant pause between Schmidt’s exit and his defence coach’s promotion will have no effect on the team in the year approaching Japan 2019.
“When we’re on the training ground you don’t do more because Joe’s watching, then take your foot off when he turns his back. They’re both beside each other at the desk during the day, so you can imagine they’re talking about everything.
“So, no. What it does, guys will be a little more mindful that he’s the next boss rather than just another assistant.”
Farrell, as with Lancaster at Leinster, has been a revelation. A highly-regarded defence coach before his employment by the IRFU, he has feathered his cap even more with the side’s ability to keep the All Blacks tryless last month.
Kearney, like so many of his teammates, is a fan.
“He’s changed our system dramatically when he first came in. It’s a difficult role to play. I rely on my wingers heavily in that system whereas here we’re a little bit different, backfield-wise. The great thing about him is he’s just very black and white.
“We’ve got a really good defensive day every Tuesday in the week. We’ve got a really good plan and he makes it very simple in terms of what he expects from guys and Joe to an extent too.
“I always find those are the best coaches to play for when you know exactly what they want.”
Whether Kearney will serve under the new regime is another thing. The veteran will begin talks with the IRFU over a new contract in the next month or so having taken the time to decide for sure that he wanted to continue playing beyond next year’s World Cup.
A one-club man, he will surely be offered the chance to finish his career with the current European and PRO14 champions, though it may be that he could contemplate the possibility of earning one bumper pay cheque in France before hanging up his boots too.
The Leinster and Ireland full-back will be 33 by the time next year’s tournament in Japan is done with. His current contract will have expired by then – if not renewed in the meantime – and he will have 14 (phenomenally successful) years under his belt as a professional rugby player.
The decision to wait until now before delving into talks was taken in order to give his full attention to the November international window and, it seems now, to fully convince himself that he was still in good enough shape to contemplate an on-field role post-Japan.
“It wasn’t in doubt (about playing on) but I just didn’t want to put myself under too much pressure - just to see how the body was first. I always find that I’m physically determined by where I am mentally.
“When my body is good and I feel fresh and we’re winning it’s very hard not to really enjoy what you’re doing and keep wanting for more.”