Jamison Gibson-Park says Stuart Lancaster will be “dearly” missed as Leinster bid to give the former England head coach a fitting send-off by clinching European glory.
Lancaster, who has served as senior coach under Leo Cullen since 2016, will leave the Irish province at the end of the season to become director of rugby at French club Racing 92.
Leinster’s final shot at lifting silverware before the 53-year-old heads to Paris comes on Saturday evening when they take on La Rochelle in the final of the Heineken Champions Cup in Dublin.
“He’s had a profound effect on my career – and I’m probably not alone in saying that – with regards to what he’s done here at Leinster,” scrum-half Gibson-Park said of Lancaster, who will be replaced by South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber.
“It’s been incredible really. The turnaround from the start, the consistency throughout, his mindset has just been awesome.
“The way he came in and certainly for me personally changed a lot of things in my outlook on rugby. And I think that’s across the board with the rest of the team as well.
“He’s had a pretty massive impact on me and we’ll miss him dearly. Hopefully he goes well over in Racing.”
Leinster have a chance for immediate redemption against La Rochelle – 12 months on from a painful last-gasp 24-21 loss to the French side in the 2022 final in Marseille.
Having suffered a semi-final exit to rivals Munster in the United Rugby Championship last weekend, Cullen’s men will attempt to end the campaign on a high at the Aviva Stadium ahead of a handful of notable departures.
In addition to the imminent exit of Lancaster, who contributed to Champions Cup success in 2018 and four URC titles, long-serving wing Dave Kearney and injured captain Johnny Sexton are heading towards retirement.
Asked if giving Englishman Lancaster a trophy to leave with was extra incentive, Gibson-Park said: “I don’t think he would expect us to think of it that way but obviously Stu’s moving on and a few other guys are finishing up as well.
“It’s obviously incentive but there’s a performance you have to get right before you start worrying about that stuff.
“We’ll be focused on that but sure there are some guys that deserve a pretty good send-off.”
Leinster are hoping to equal Toulouse’s record of five Champions Cup titles by exacting revenge on Ronan O’Gara’s side.
Ireland international Gibson-Park will return to the starting XV alongside a host of other star names after head coach Cullen opted to rest them for last weekend’s surprise 16-15 defeat by Munster.
“It’s finals rugby and it’s win or die,” he said. “Small margins.
“We will just be chasing a performance and that’s the most important thing for us, to try and get that right.
“Obviously it’s very tough with a team as good as they are so it’s going to be challenging but we’re looking forward to it.”
Asked if Leinster will alter their style due to the formidable size of the opposition’s pack, he added: “We won’t be changing things drastically, I don’t think.
“But you’ve got to be smart around how you attack them so we’ll see how we go.”