Lions and Crusaders a long way down the line for Stuart Lancaster

It’s clearly not the sort of thing exercising his mind these strange days but Stuart Lancaster hasn’t ruled out the prospect of featuring on a British and Irish Lions coaching staff for the proposed 2021 tour of South Africa.
Lions and Crusaders a long way down the line for Stuart Lancaster

It’s clearly not the sort of thing exercising his mind these strange days but Stuart Lancaster hasn’t ruled out the prospect of featuring on a British and Irish Lions coaching staff for the proposed 2021 tour of South Africa.

The Leinster senior coach has been integral to the province’s return to the very top level of European club rugby. His adoption of a more hands-on coaching role, as opposed to the managerial brief he held with England, has suited both parties to a tee.

Warren Gatland fits that directorial brief with the Lions and the likelihood is that he will need at least one ‘new’ assistant in 15 months’ time given the suspension shipped for breaches of betting rules by Rob Howley who was attack coach on the last three tours.

“It just feels like so far away, you just sit there thinking, ‘Oh, the Lions’,” said Lancaster on a conference call from his home in Leeds.

“Everyone as a coach would ultimately want to test themselves at the highest level but I’ve never personally chatted to anyone about it, so we’ll see.

“There’s been fantastic coaching teams that have gone in the past. I’m sure they would all be keen to put their hands up again in the future. But let’s hope we’re in a position, probably this time next year, where we’re really actively debating who is going on that tour, [saying] it’s going to be a fantastic tour and everything that we hoped for will happen.

“But, equally, who is to know how long this [pandemic and shutdown] is going to go on. It’s just so hard to look too far ahead. My mind is very much focused on doing what’s right for today to help society get through tomorrow. That would be my sort of view on it.”

That day-to-day approach is understandable. Lancaster has busied himself with watching reams of game footage and giving online coaching clinics — dozens of AIL coaches and hundreds of GAA coaches are among those to have benefited from his experience and knowledge through the lockdown.

But flights of fancy are nourishment of their own in these spartan sporting times. The hope is that rugby will emerge from this period of paralysis with a new calendar off which all stakeholders are aligned. A global season would be one key step towards a mooted World Club Cup that could take place, if not every year, then every two or four.

It’s an intriguing proposition, the thought of a Saracens or a Toulouse or a Leinster taking on the southern hemisphere’s best which, for the last three seasons, has been the Crusaders. Lancaster would clearly jump at that chance, were it doable.

“Yeah, of course. Again, with the magic wand and the new global season that we’ll all hopefully see in the future, that would be brilliant. It would be brilliant to actually do that, to actually create some form of competition, whether it’s the winners of each league or the top four or whatever.

“I wonder whether TV and the drive for growing the game would want that. I think they would, personally. I don’t know how you’d do it. Obviously, I’m not privy to all that sort of stuff but a chance for Leinster to play the Crusaders, for example. Who wouldn’t want to watch a game like that? So, it would get my vote.”

All of which seems light years away given the current stasis.

Leinster were shaping up towards something historic before the season was brought to a halt and, though they were unbeaten in the Guinness PRO14 and the Heineken Champions Cup, Lancaster feels there is further scope for improvement even during this period of inactivity.

And this break, in what was shaping up to be a marathon 14-month season starting with pre-season for the World Cup campaign and ending with a tour to Australia, could actually work in favour of some individuals as well as the team.

Jonathan Sexton will be 35 in July but he spoke some time ago about an ambition to make it as far as that Lions trip to South Africa in 2021. An extended period without any competitive rugby or heavy lifting in a training environment may be no bad thing in that regard.

“If you speak to Johnny he’ll probably say it’s extended his career by another five years,” Lancaster laughed. “If you manage this period well personally you should be able to come back in good shape. You should be able to get over any little niggles. It’s not often you get this window, I don’t think. Certainly in rugby what tends to happen is that the season finishes, you get three weeks, then you’re in for two weeks, then you have two weeks off. They’re very short windows really.”

“So, no, for those players who are coming towards the end of their careers, over 30s, if they manage themselves in this period it could actually be of benefit but the trick is, obviously, the self-discipline to manage yourself.”

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