Perhaps even more than underlining his dedication to the Leinster cause, Stuart Lancaster’s words on the ongoing Joey Carbery saga spoke volumes about how well he is suited his role as senior coach. Sometimes, job titles matter. This one reinforces where Lancaster’s strengths lie.
Yesterday, Lancaster admitted that he had not been privy to any negotiations over Carbery’s potential switch to Ulster, but did stress that the gifted 22 year-old had “developed brilliantly” in Dublin and that it would be a pleasure to continue working with him.
It brought to mind a rather charming story told by Danny Care recently on the BBC’s Rugby Union Weekly podcast about his time on Leeds Tykes’ junior academy.
In one-on-one skills sessions with the teenage scrum-half, Lancaster used to soak balls with washing up liquid to hone Care’s passing technique. A decade on, the detail is still impressive.
When taking up his current position at the beginning of last season, Lancaster explained the way in which his commitments as England head coach had morphed. Sometimes, job titles mislead.
“This will be a lot more hands-on than the England job became,” he said, looking back at the grim capitulation of Rugby World Cup 2015 after 10 months of traveling the world to learn lessons from different teams and different sports.
“By the end, I wasn’t doing as much coaching as I would have liked, more leadership and management. This has given me a chance to redress the balance.”
Leinster have played some phenomenal rugby en route the Champions Cup final. Leo Cullen’s regime has also blooded youth. Dan Leavy and James Ryan look like generational talents. Both have slotted into a versatile, cohesive, creative side and then – to the credit of their own ability and the clarity of tactical structures around them – enhanced it.
But there are still coaching challenges for Lancaster to immerse himself in. Coming back to Carbery, one major priority is to hone fly-half cover behind supreme playmaker Jonathan Sexton. There have been encouraging signs so far.
Exeter Chiefs have come closest to toppling Leinster during their 2017-8 European campaign. They powered into a 17-3 lead at the Aviva Stadium in December. Leinster roared back, though, eventually winning 22-17. It is easy to forget that Ross Byrne replaced an injured Sexton in the second minute.
Harlequins’ new director of rugby faces a sizeable remit that could require a significant backroom restructure. You sense they might not have too much time for hands-on, training ground tasks when replacing John Kingston.
Lancaster will have advanced a great deal over the past three years and has demonstrated other strings to his bow at Leinster, such as canny player recruitment. Free-running James Lowe will prove to be a wonderful signing. However, when Lancaster was last spinning too many plates, they came crashing down.
The focus he can afford to on-field matters at Leinster appears an excellent fit. Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park, a former Hurricane and Maori All Black who has played under some of New Zealand’s sharpest rugby minds, recently heralded Lancaster as the best coach he has worked with. Sexton is an influential fan, too.
At 48, Lancaster is 10 years younger than Eddie Jones and Steve Hansen. He will surely figure in Ireland’s post-Joe Schmidt plans. Returning to the Premiership cannot feel particularly appealing.