'We'd be regarded as one of the best organisations in Europe' - Henshaw notes magnitude of Lancaster loss but insists Leinster will find able replacement

Henshaw joked about the topic of Johnny Sexton's future in blue, saying 'I reckon he'll play-coach'
'We'd be regarded as one of the best organisations in Europe' - Henshaw notes magnitude of Lancaster loss but insists Leinster will find able replacement


Public speaking isn’t Robbie Henshaw’s favourite thing. The Leinster and Ireland centre isn’t the loudest voice in either dressing-room either but he was considered a safe enough pair of hands to talk to the media this week just hours after confirmation that Stuart Lancaster would be leaving the province for Racing 92.

The 29-year old spoke affectionately for the work Lancaster has done in his six years and counting in Dublin, and for the role he has played developing the squad as people as well as players, before the conversation turned inevitably to who might take over from the Englishman who had done so much.

"I'd imagine it's going to be a big debate on who we'll get in, but we'd be regarded as one of the best organisations in Europe so there's a cycle in things. I've played under great coaches who have moved on and new coaches have come in.

“Sometimes it's great when a fresh coach comes in. Andrew Goodman is in this year, he's brilliant for the backs. He's brought something new. So, as a player, it is tough to see a coach leave but it's exciting to see what a new voice and set of eyes brings.” 

It looks like a time of flux for Leinster. Lancaster will leave next summer, CEO Mick Dawson steps down after 21 years in November and Johnny Sexton is due to finish up with the province next May before turning to a World Cup that will be the end point for his career.

Sexton has said before that the prospect of coaching doesn’t appeal to him. The impact on family life is well-thumbed regardless of the sport at this stage and it brings with it not just the endless hours but the peripatetic nature of a career with different clubs or countries.

Still, you’d never know.

“It's been thrown around, been debated. I reckon he'll play-coach,” Henshaw laughed.

Lancaster’s news, which he broke to the squad on Monday afternoon, came as no surprise given the escalating speculation across the previous week or so and Henshaw had glowing praise for a coach who arrived at the club just a few months after he had in mid-2016.

The former England boss has an encyclopedic knowledge of players around the world and he would point centres out to Henshaw and ask him if he could utilise some of those traits. Distribution, running, physicality: Lancaster extended him in all areas.

That held for his personality as well. That introverted nature was presented with a coach who challenged him to be more vocal around the squad and sought out his opinion. He preferred that to the type who gave orders and expected them to be followed.

Lancaster introduced lessons learned from dynasties like the LA Lakers and New England Patriots, his ‘Stusdays’ taking on mythical status and his sessions embraced all 40 or so players throughout. There was no-one left standing around with hands on hips.

“It’s going to be a big loss for us, given what he has done the last seven years. He is a great character and a great coach. A coach that really has an impact on a lot of players personally with how he treats you and how he gives you time, how he will open the floor to you and ask you what you think, how he can challenge you to grow as a player and as a leader.

“Racing are getting a brilliant coach but we have the rest of the season to do our best and send him off on a high.” If there is one asterisk to attach to Lancaster’s time at Leinster then it is the club’s failure to add to the Heineken Champions Cup title claimed in 2018. They have lost two finals since, one of them to La Rochelle in Marseille last season.

Henshaw describes that as one of the lowest points he has known in his career and the fact that it was followed by a shock PRO14 semi-final loss to the Bulls at the RDS means they won’t lack for motivation as they go about putting that right.

If nothing else it would be a fitting farewell to their talismanic captain and transformational coach.

“The fact that the European final is in Dublin, that makes it more special,” said Henshaw. “Johnny mentioned it in Marseille last year, that it was something to have in our minds this season. His character, he's always looking forward to the next challenge. Definitely, for him and for Stu.”

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