San Mames Stadium, Bilbao, 5.45pm
Wayne Barnes (England)
BT Sport, Sky Sports
Racing 10/11, Draw 16/1
Coaches being effusive about their charges is hardly anything new but Lancaster’s appraisal ahead of Saturday’s Champions Cup final against Racing 92 extended far beyond the usual platitudes and summed up just how important the 32-year old is.
“It is obvious what he brings on the field but it is the behind-the-scenes that people don’t see that is the key to Johnny. I have loved coaching with him.
“His knowledge of the game and his ability to use that knowledge in the heat of battle in the game is incredible.
His ability to keep calm and composed, to think things and solve the puzzle while in the game … he sees things like very few players I have coached.
“An international player would see the gap. A world-class player like Johnny would be through the gap.
“He is that good, in my opinion. I think he would agree as well that he has been coached by some very good coaches along the way and, because of his meticulous approach to preparation, he has absorbed all those lessons from all those great coaches.
“That has made him the complete player.”
Lancaster has long been fascinated by the New England Patriots and the role the now 40-year-old Brady has played in securing five Super Bowls titles across 15 seasons in a sport which is normally so hostile to the concept of dynasties.
Sexton was duly introduced to the quarterback’s story and admits now to being “obsessed” with it: to such an extent that he has spoken openly about making the next British and Irish Lions tour, during which he will celebrate his 36th birthday.
“I think his wife is a bit upset with me because I can see the comparison,” Lancaster joked. “Honestly, I can. When I started watching the Patriots and understanding how they went to five Super Bowls and Tom Brady is the quarterback who has done it, I could see it.
“I kept finding clips and sending them to Johnny.”
The anecdote is just another example of Lancaster’s influence on this Leinster operation even if he played down the imprint he has made on the culture yesterday when pointing out so much of what makes the province tick was in place well before his arrival.
That coach and club are a great fit is inarguable.
The Yorkshireman was asked to Dublin at the start of the last season when assistant coach Kurt McQuilkin returned to New Zealand at short notice for family reasons and the testimonies from players and fellow coaches since have been staggering.
Key to it all working was Leo Cullen. The rookie head coach showed maturity in embracing Lancaster, as “senior coach”, and the relationship has been a fruitful one regardless of how or where the various duties are divvied up.
“Our styles are very similar and we are very similar in terms of personality. I don’t think either of us need to, or want to, be front and centre all the time. So, Leo is happy for me to lead on stuff and I’m happy for Leo to lead on stuff. He’s got very high integrity and very good leadership qualities.
You saw that as a player. He’s got great integrity, he’s got unbelievable work ethic and he’s very good on the managerial side of things. So, (that includes) the planning on the day-to-day, week-to-week and he’s very honest with the players. That skill set allows me to focus on the coaching side of things.
Lancaster is a man reborn at Leinster.
His time in charge of England ended with the crushing disappointment of a pool stage exit from the 2015 World Cup and it was put to him yesterday that he is a good example of the sporting cliché about how you have to lose a few big ones before you get over the line.
“The perception is that I lost a lot of games in charge of England but actually we won a lot as well. We won some big ones against the All Blacks etc, etc. I don’t think there is any coach that has gone unbeaten and I don’t think you have to go through that necessarily.
“But it certainly makes you more determined when you have been through it and come out the other side. And not just do it for yourself, to be honest. You want to do it for Leinster, first and foremost, the players and the supporters.
“But from a personal point of view, you want to do it for your family because they’re the ones who have supported you through all the tough times.
“My wife and kids and family and friends. That’s the motivation for me.”