Leinster surprised the rugby public when they appointed Stuart Lancaster as senior coach this week.
Last season Leinster paid the price for sacking Matt O’Conner without having an alternative candidate ready to take the reigns. The speed at which the province moved to cast aside the Australian was in complete contrast to their fruitless search to find a replacement.
Throughout the summer of 2015, the blues were linked with numerous high profile names, but were ultimately forced to appoint an inexperienced coaching team led by Leo Cullen. Although he may become top coach in time, like Anthony Foley at Munster, the former Leinster captain was out of his depth through no fault of his own.
However, unlike at Munster where the powers that be waited until it was almost too late to bring in Rassie Erasmus, Leinster sought the aid of Graham Henry before eventually turning to Stuart Lancaster.
Nevertheless, while it appears Leinster have acted decisively, nothing can be further from the truth. Despite being an experienced international coach, Lancaster’s role within the coaching set up remains ill-defined.
What kind of authority will he have over selection and tactics? Will he be a direct replacement for the excellent Kurt McQuilkin? If not, why haven’t Leinster appointed a recognised defence coach?
The length of his contract leaves yet more unanswered questions. Lancaster’s nine month deal suggests that his role is an extension of Henry’s. However, as Cullen has entered the final season of his two year deal, surely the former England coach will be auditioning for the job.
If that is the case, who are the players trying to impress this season, Cullen or Lancaster?
This is a pertinent question and raises the prospect of two scenarios playing out. The first would see Lancaster becoming more influential within the set up, leaving those who remain loyal to Cullen feeling uneasy.
The second sees Lancaster’s influence wane after it becomes apparent that he will not be staying on beyond the end of the season, making his appointment a bit of a fools errand and placing more pressure on Cullen.
The irony of Lancaster’s arrival will not be lost on Ulster either. Last week saw the IRFU stop Ulster from offering Ruan Pienaar a contract extension in a bid to promote indigenous talent.
Yet this week the governing body have okayed the arrival of Lancaster, who might not only yet stifle the development of Cullen, but also Girvan Dempsey, Guy Easterby and John Fogarty.
Frank Quinn, Pundit Arena