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'Perfect fit' ex-All Black touted to replace Lancaster at Leinster

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images)

Former Leinster boss Matt Williams has suggested the Irish province should cast their net wide and tease out the situation regarding a particular New Zealander when it comes to recruiting a successor to the France-bound Stuart Lancaster. The ex-England coach was this week confirmed as the new Racing 92 boss for the 2023/24 season and his seventh season as the Leinster senior coach will conclude next May.

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This early decision leaves Leinster with ample time to scour the world to identify their perfect fit to succeed Lancaster, who has successfully operated under the director of rugby Leo Cullen since September 2016.

The pair delivered a 2018 European and league double, as well as numerous other PRO14 titles, but with a parting of the ways now amicably arranged, Williams reckoned Leinster should be on the blower to New Zealand to sound out the interest of ex-All Blacks player and coach Wayne Smith.

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He had retired from coaching only to earlier this year wind up in charge of the Black Ferns women’s team that next weekend opens its challenge to win the World Cup it is hosting. The 65-year-old is tremendously popular given the vast array of experiences he has accumulated over the years and Williams, who was in charge at Leinster from 1999 through to 2003 when he quit for Scotland, believes the Kiwi has what it takes to succeed Lancaster in Dublin.

Speaking on Off The Ball, the Irish sports radio show, Williams began: “No, there is not (a never-ending list to fit the profile). Certainly, Wayne Smith was one I thought of. I coached against Wayne for years. I know him very well, he is a great bloke.

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“They call him Yoda in New Zealand because he knows everything. He is the wise one coaching in New Zealand. I don’t know if he wants to go over. He coached at Northampton when we used to catch up for coffee all the time. His knowledge is phenomenal. He is a great guy. He’d be the perfect fit for Leinster but I don’t know if he would want to do it.”

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Williams went on to explain how missed Lancaster would be at Leinster. “Coming back to Stuart’s role, he has done a phenomenal job and will be greatly missed. There are no two ways about that, he has been a sensational asset for the club. When we talk to Rob Kearney and any of the former players, there is nothing but praise and admiration for his knowledge, wisdom and teaching ability as a coach.

“Stuart goes brilliantly out the door but let’s go back, though. When Leo signed him, everyone was, ‘He has just failed with England, what are we signing him as an assistant for?’ Everyone ridiculed the appointment, but Leo was brilliant at that appointment.”

Curiously, despite the success of Lancaster, Williams has one reservation about the expanse of the job the Englishman has been doing and believes the impending exit now offers a golden opportunity for Leinster to strengthen their backroom.

“What the opportunity provides as the year goes on, Stuart is there for another nine, ten months, and let’s hope they have got some silverware to send him out, Stuart’s role should be split. He does defence and attack and that is too big. This is your opportunity to bring in a specialist defence coach for Leinster.

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“I have felt the role has been too big for Stuart for a few years. Not that he has done it poorly in any way. I’m not criticising, I just think the role is too expansive for one person the way the modern game is and this allows you to bring in a specialist attack coach. So again there is a chance for renewal and change with a new voice because of Leo’s structure – and it is a brilliant structure that I have seen other people do it.

“He is the director of rugby, a DoR, and he empowers his staff to deliver the message. There is zero wrong with that system, zero because it is delivering and that is what Leo is comfortable with. Rob Macqueen has done it, a whole load of other coaches that have been successful over the years follow that model and I have got no problems with it.

“This allows a new set of voices to come in, so Leo will turn the negative into a positive and they will take a lot of time to sift through some elite guys from across the rugby world that will fit that profile – but there is not a lot of them.”

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