Leinster legend Brian O’Driscoll has praised the “exceptional” work Stuart Lancaster has done in helping the Irish province to the brink of a fourth European Cup success. But he does not think the former England coach will be in a rush to step back into the Test arena with Ireland.
Lancaster joined Leinster as senior coach in September 2016, having taken a year to travel the world and experience different environments following England disappointing pool stage exit from the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
He has since formed an effective working relationship with Leinster head coach Leo Cullen as the pair have masterminded the province’s run to the Champions Cup final and last four of the PRO14.
In the lead up to the showpiece game against Racing 92 in Bilbao, back row Dan Leavy revealed that Lancaster had “revolutionised” training in Dublin, and three-time European Cup winner O’Driscoll has been similarly impressed.
“He’s been exceptional,” he told ESPN. “They [the players] have been totally lauding him, his variety of training, his rugby intellect, both defensively and in attack. I think what Stuart’s really enjoyed is that he’s gone back to doing what he loves doing, which is with a tracksuit on and coaching every day.
“With the England role he wasn’t given the opportunity to do that maybe as much as he was in his coaching roles prior to that. That’s what he thrives on and that’s what he is best at.
“His relationship with Leo Cullen is symbiotic in that neither of them are egotistical, neither of them worry about the other getting credit for the work done. I think they are a brilliant team and they complement each other, and they understand their role remit.”
Leinster have reached the final with a team boasting a mix of experience and youth. Johnny Sexton is one of five players bidding to win their fourth European Cup, while at the other end of the scale James Ryan, at 21, is yet to taste defeat in 20 matches as a professional rugby player.
To Ryan you can add Tadhg Furlong, Leavy, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose and Jordan Larmour — all of whom are in their early 20s. That potential, O’Driscoll believes, could convince Lancaster, Cullen and even Ireland boss Joe Schmidt to stay in their roles after next year’s World Cup.
“There’s so much hearsay about what’s going to happen post-World Cup,” the BT Sport pundit added. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Joe Schmidt staying on after the World Cup. I don’t think he’s necessarily gone from that role.
“Leo and Stuart are quite happy in the roles that they are in at the moment. I think they see the quality of side that they have and there’s definitely the scope to be competitive at the business end of the season for many years to come.
“So, maybe they won’t be in a massive rush to jump into a new role.”
Potential, for now, can wait. Leinster start Saturday’s final as favourites and O’Driscoll was pleased with how the players handled their semifinal win over Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium last month. Celebrations were muted as focus immediately switched to Bilbao.
“I was impressed with the reaction at the end of that game,” he said. “They weren’t jumping around in celebration at being in a final, the expectation was that they wanted to play well and win that game.
“They didn’t allow the Scarlets to play, they were very, very good. I genuinely think if they play at that standard like they played against Scarlets, Racing — even the way they played against Munster — I don’t think they’ll be able to live with them.”