It was announced this morning that Matt O’Connor had been sacked from his position as Leinster head coach. Jonathan Fitzpatrick looks at some of the potential candidates to replace the man in charge at the Irish province.
Leinster’s problems will not end with the sacking of head coach Matt O’Connor, and whoever steps into the position will have a big task ahead of them. With a squad of underperforming and underachieving players, Leinster Rugby needs a revamp to bring them back to their winning ways.
The termination of O’Connor’s contract comes at an odd time. With the World Cup fast approaching, top level coaches are in short supply, and there will be far more readily available post November.
Unless Leo Cullen’s interim position is to last six months and Leinster have their eye on someone, here are some of the possible contenders.
Out of a job since early 2014, Ewen McKenzie was sacked from his position as head coach of Australia due to ‘off the field’ issues. A conflict between Wallabies Star Kurtley Beale and the team’s business manager Di Patson brought McKenzie into the limelight, and the former prop left his position abruptly.
Before taking up his stint with Australia, Ewen McKenzie enjoyed a hugely successful tenure at the Queensland Reds. He took them to their first league title since 1995 with the Reds winning the 2011 Super Rugby Championship in emphatic fashion.
At a time that Leinster were playing some of their most exciting rugby, the Reds were almost their southern hemisphere counterpart. An expansive attacking style was key to the Reds gameplan, as they improved their winning record under McKenzie greatly.
With Ewen McKenzie currently out of a job, Leinster could do far worse than see what the former Australian head coach could bring to the table. McKenzie transformed the Queensland Reds, and ensured that while the team still played entertaining rugby; they also played winning rugby.
The main plus with Ewen McKenzie is that he is an experienced coach with a good reputation that is currently available. With his style seemingly perfect for the Leinster setup, McKenzie could be an appointment that not only will excite the fans, but could strike a crucial balance for a flailing Leinster side.
The young Grenoble coach has had a dream start to his coaching career, really creating something exciting in the French Top 14. A small club with a small budget, Jackman’s guise and role in the club has been a large part of their rise in fortunes. They’re now playing entertaining rugby, and competing with some of Europe’s best.
Working alongside Mike Prendergast, it is remarkable to see what the duo have done in their few years at Grenoble. It is also worth noting their use of young Irish talent – Chris Farrell and James Hart both coming on greatly during their time in France. The tangible differences made in the club, it is an excellent note on Jackman’s CV.
Jackman is another addition that Leinster fans would welcome with open arms, however is it just too early for the former Irish international? It seems inevitable that Jackman takes up a big coaching ticket in Ireland, but with only 4 years under his belt at France, Jackman may not want to leave his Grenoble side yet.
Wayne Smith has been long touted to move back into to a head coaching role, although it has yet to materialise. Currently assistant coach at New Zealand Rugby franchise the Chiefs, Smith is best known for the 7 years he spent working as assistant coach to New Zealand, between 2004 and 2011 – a period of dominance for the Kiwis.
There were rumours Smith would take up a spot in the English coaching ticket with Stuart Lancaster in 2012, yet a deal never came. Smith would be an excellent acquisition for any team – one of the most renowned coaches in the game, he would be a marquee signing by the Irish province.
While rumours about the Kiwi’s interest will probably fly over the next weeks, he is very much committed to the New Zealand cause. Just before Christmas, Smith was appointed defensive coach for the All Blacks’ World Cup defense, and has a vested interest in the Kiwi campaign.
The timing is off on this one, and it would be a surprise to see Smith take a move to Ireland.
Any time a job in Ireland becomes available, there’s a huge clamour around Conor O’Shea. O’Shea has a good reputation amongst fans, management, and pundits alike, and many would love to see him with a more hands on role in Irish Rugby.
With an English Premiership win, countless play-offs and a Challenge Cup in his cabinet, the former London Irish star has also worked with the English Institute of Sport, and the RFU. O’Shea is a very highly regarded figure across Europe.
The former Irish international stepped into a role as Director of Rugby in Harlequins at an unenviable time – Bloodgate 2009. However, O’Shea went about his job with aplomb and is credited with saving the club at a difficult time, doing an excellent job at maintaining the club’s reputation, image, and winning record.
O’Shea is in contract with Harlequins for another year, and after the fullback invested so much into the club, it is difficult to imagine him leaving his contract early.
Dempsey is one of the front runners for the post given his current position in Leinster Rugby, and although he is relatively inexperienced, he would be a logical choice. The timing of O’Connor’s sacking does not leave Leinster open to a lot of choices, which re-enforces Dempsey as an option.
Working in the academy, Dempsey has shown an ability to get the most out of some of Leinster’s brightest prospects. This will stand to him, as the 39 year old already has a working relationship with some of Leinster’s new stars. Very much settled into the Leinster set-up, Dempsey would almost provide a seamless transition.
The main issue with Dempsey’s appointment comes down to his experience. It would be a tough ask to get the Terenure College man to rebuild this Leinster side in his first full coaching position, and there are questions over whether or not he is the right man for the job at this moment in time.
Jonathan Fitzpatrick, Pundit Arena