Amidst the mountain of names mentioned yesterday as possible replacements for Matt O’Connor’s Leinster job, it was that of Robbie Deans that emerged on top with the New Zealander’s tumbling odds squaring with earlier smoke signals from sources.
Deans was sounded out for the Leinster role this time two years ago when the province went searching for a successor to Joe Schmidt who was moving up the chain to the Ireland job, but the timeline didn’t suit either party.
Though his five-year tenure as Wallaby coach was already in trouble, Deans was still in charge through to the completion of the Lions tour to Australia and, in the event, Leinster decided against waiting a number of months for a man who might or might not have become available.
Deans is currently with the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan, though he has been linked to the vacant Blues post back home and spoke of his continuing ambitions when telling the Rugby Heaven website last October that he was still be interested in managing the All Blacks.
That prospect was ultimately put on hold two months later when it was confirmed that current incumbent Steve Hansen had signed a new contract that would take him through to the conclusion of the 2017 Lions tour to New Zealand.
Hansen has also signalled that he may stay even longer but Deans had previously ruled out a return to Super Rugby where he spent eight years, winning an incredible five titles with the Crusaders before moving across the Tasman Sea to take over the Wallabies.
“I have probably had a fair stint there when you include management as well,” he said when asked about a return to the Super Rugby stage. “It is probably more the international level that would excite me more.”
Whether that is still the case remains to be seen, but a list of contenders that stretched towards a full 23-man matchday squad was already being whittled down yesterday morning when Harlequins Director of Rugby Conor O’Shea ruled himself.
Another man seen as a desirable prospect was Bernard Jackman, the former Leinster hooker who has built a considerable reputation for himself at Grenoble in France, first as a defence coach and latterly as the main man.
It is understood, however, that Jackman is not interested in making the move home at this time. Jono Gibbes, the former Leinster forwards coach, was another possible replacement for Schmidt last time though he is just one year into a stint as forwards coach with Clermont Auvergne.
Other Irish coaches namechecked include current Leinster forwards coach Leo Cullen, current Leinster academy director Girvan Dempsey, Saracens’ Director of Rugby Mark McCall and Biarritz’s Eddie O’Sullivan.
Others among the foreign legion were Exeter Chiefs coach Rob Baxter and Wayne Smith who, like Deans, has been mentioned as a possibility for the Blues though he is due to serve as an assistant to Hansen with the All Blacks for the World Cup.
None of which will be of any material interest to O’Connor, whose three-year contract was ended a season early “by mutual consent” according to Leinster after a meeting of the province’s Professional Games Board.
O’Connor was quoted as being “disappointed and frustrated” with the club’s PRO12 form this season. Leinster had claimed the title in O’Connor’s first season in charge, but finished outside the play-off places in fifth this campaign.
The former Leicester Tigers head coach was more upbeat about their European exertions, however, and it bears repeating that, for all the team’s problems, they would have made the Champions Cup final had Jimmy Gopperth’s drop in the semi-final against Toulon been inches to the left.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved