Brian O’Driscoll has labelled Leinster’s decision to part company with Matt O’Connor last summer as “rash” as the province turns to World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry to support an inexperienced management setup.
O’Connor had a season left on his three-year contract when the province decided to look elsewhere but an unforeseen shortage of quality candidates willing to take over led instead to the inexperienced Leo Cullen being handed the reins.
O’Driscoll was actually a member of the committee tasked with hiring O’Connor’s successor but believes the club was hasty in seeking change. “If they had their time back would they hold onto him for another year? Quite possibly,” he said. “Perhaps it was a little bit rash.”
O’Connor delivered a PRO12 title in his first term but failed to make the play-offs in year two while, at the same time, coming within a whisker of securing a place in the Champions Cup final. Criticisms of the team’s performances and results were more or less constant.
With the Rugby World Cup depriving Leinster of so many players for the start of the 2015-16 season, Cullen faced an unenviable task in his first senior head coach role and an early European exit was followed by a better league showing that ended in a final defeat to Glasgow.
O’Driscoll worked under Henry, who arrives this month on a short-term consultancy basis, when the New Zealander was coach of the British and Irish Lions way back in 2001 and expects Cullen will lean heavily on the New Zealander on a one-to-one basis.
“I know the All Blacks were big on standards, not having balls down,” he explained. “That is driven by the senior players, that is driven by the coach to make sure that mediocrity isn’t acceptable. I’m intrigued as to how it goes. It is a positive step.
“Leo is the one that instigated it, which makes it even more positive. He doesn’t feel it’s a threat. He’s encouraging it, enhancing his knowledge which has to be a good thing. I’m intrigued to speak to some of the players in the next two or three weeks to see how it is going.”
Henry’s arrival follows on from the appointment of Rassie Erasmus as Director of Coaching with Munster and, with Pat Lam at Connacht and Les Kiss at Ulster, the numbers of native coaches around the provinces is limited.
The foreign influence is equally pronounced at national level with Andy Farrell now among those serving under Joe Schmidt whose contract ends next year and who has given notice of an intention to reveal his intentions beyond that by the end of the summer.
David Nucifora, the IRFU’s performance director, stated just last month that the union is well-stocked for replacement head coaches from within she system should the need arise but O’Driscoll’s view on how Ireland would handle a Schmidt departure is one more widely-held.
“It would leave a very big void. He has done a terrific job in Ireland, full stop, since he has been here. Ireland look competitive in every single game that they play … You are always pretty hopeful under Joe Schmidt teams. I am envious that I didn’t get to a World Cup under him.
“This is not to disrespect Declan Kidney or other coaches in any shape or form but Joe’s level of detail on top of the team that we had in 2011 would have been a lovely match. Joe’s level of detail with any team would be a pretty good match.”
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