Leo Cullen yesterday tried to dismiss reports linking Stuart Lancaster to Racing 92 as “silly season” stuff. That was before his counterpart at the French club, Laurent Travers, made it clear later in the afternoon that the Parisians are perfectly serious.
It is Travers’ proposed shift up the chain of command to the role of club president that may leave the door open for Lancaster should the latter decide to leave Dublin after six years and Travers has confirmed that talks have been held and more are in the pipeline.
“We’re not going to hide it,” he was reported as saying at a club press conference.
Should Lancaster ultimately move on to a new chapter it would be a blow in itself given his enormous input to date, not just with the senior team in terms of performances and culture, but with the wider Leinster organisation.
It would also feed into a wider drain of key personnel. Mick Dawson will finish up as CEO after over two transformative decades in November, Felipe Contepomi and Denis Leamy have departed the coaching staff and senior players are being lost to Father Time as well.
Most notable in terms of players will be Johnny Sexton who is due to retire after next year’s World Cup. Put it all together and Leinster could be facing into a transitional period unlike any they have faced since Cullen himself took the reins from Matt O’Connor in 2015.
Cullen accepted that Dawson’s exit is a significant moment in time given the latter’s influence across the board, but insisted that transition is an ongoing process with half of the players and coaches approaching the end of contracts at any given time.
“You think of some of the top end players that have played for the team, and how will they be replaced? Like, Brian O’Driscoll, he’s one of the top players but the show rolls on. That’s what happened. The show rolls on. Someone else steps in," said his former teammate.
“Garry Ringrose is captaining the team (tonight), he was a young player at that stage when Brian was finishing up. He comes into the team and off he goes, plays for Ireland and does wonderful things and all the rest. That’s just the nature of it.”
Ringrose is one of eight Ireland internationals ushered in for tonight’s BTK URC tie at home to Benetton. All told there are 11 changes to the side that squeaked over the line away to Zebre Parma in the season opener last week.
The early use of the front-line stars coincides with Leinster losing 11 younger bodies to the Emerging Ireland squad that convenes this weekend but one of those, Ciaran Frawley, will start at out-half for the province before reporting in to camp.
This is a significant moment for a player who hasn’t worn the blue No.10 jersey for over two-and-a-half years but impressed in the position against the Maoris this summer with Ireland. Andy Farrell clearly sees his future there rather than at centre.
“He has covered ten for us and played at ten for us a number of times before,” said Cullen. “With Ross and Harry (Byrne) there as well it is just competitive but they are three relatively young guys but at different stages.
“Ciaran played a lot initially at ten, moved to 12 and he has been back and forth a bit. He had to have that shoulder surgery, played more at 12 than ten last year but he is back playing ten this year so it is great to have that versatility.
“The likes of Dan Carter would have done that role as a ten and 12 internationally and at club level. He has had some great games for Leinster already in both positions.”