Lancaster ‘very happy’ at Leinster but unsigned contract leaves door open for Ireland talks

ALTHOUGH ALWAYS HONEST and engaging, Stuart Lancaster yesterday managed to keep his cards very close to his chest by saying everything, and nothing, about his coaching future. 

Eleven minutes answering questions and Lancaster left the room with the assembled print media no closer to knowing the identity of who his employers will be next season, as the affable Englishman remained coy on his plans, choosing his words carefully.

Lancaster: Will he be at Leinster next season or not? Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

What we do know, however, is that Lancaster is out of contract with the province at the end of this season, is currently in discussions with Mick Dawson and the Leinster hierarchy over possibly extending his terms, but that conversation may be muddied by a soon-to-be-held catch-up with old friend Andy Farrell, who just so happens to be the next Ireland head coach.

Lancaster, addressing the recent speculation linking him to a host of clubs in England and also to roles within the Ireland and England national team set-ups, was keen to reiterate his happiness in his current role at Leinster, despite any issues with his draining commute from Cumbria. 

Negotiations are ongoing in relation to a new contract at UCD, an environment in which he’s been able to rebuild his coaching reputation having been publicly vilified for England’s 2015 World Cup failure, but — significantly — it remains unsigned. 

A return to Twickenham has not crossed his mind, Lancaster says, after the RFU’s interim chief executive, Nigel Melville, last week said the 49-year-old would not be ruled out of consideration in the search for Eddie Jones’ successor. 

“To be honest I’ve never really thought of it in the context,” he said. “I spend all my time in the here and now, I gave up trying to plan too far ahead.

“I was contracted in 2015 right through to 2019 as England coach and that didn’t obviously transpire through what happened in the World Cup. So as a consequence, I’ve given up planning too far ahead now, I’m going to concentrate on the here and now.

“Obviously, there’s a situation that I’m out of contract at the end of this year but I’m certainly not going ahead trying to plan the next five years of my career. I’m much more exercised in doing a really good job with Leinster, coaching as best as I can, and Leinster being successful.”

He added: “I’ve not spoken to Nigel. I mean, I know Nigel well, we go back a long way. But I’ve not spoken to him or anyone at the RFU for a significant amount of time.”

Lancaster revealed he has not spoken to anyone outside of Leinster in relation to his future, but intends to sit down with Farrell in the coming weeks. A reunion with his former defence coach has been mooted, with Farrell set to take over as Ireland head coach when Joe Schmidt leaves after next year’s World Cup.

“He and I go back,” Lancaster explained. “I asked him to coach with me in the England Saxons and then obviously to join the England coaching team.

“The first thing I’ll say is that I think he’s the right man for the job. I think there was never any doubt in my mind that he should be the next head coach if Joe should decide to leave and Ireland made that decision.

Lancaster has been linked with a role on the Ireland coaching team. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I mean he sat for four years as assistant coach to me, four years as assistant coach to Joe and he would have learned a huge amount in that time and he’s got his opportunity now over the course of the next 12 months to decide how he wants to shape not just his coaching team but his philosophy, the environment, everything that goes with being an international coach.

“And he’s probably ready for that step, he’s waited patiently for his opportunity. So my relationship with him has always been good, he lives about 10 minutes away and we’ve spoken consistently since I’ve been at Leinster, we spoke consistently when I left England and I’ll catch him again at some point soon, I’m sure.”

A switch of briefs from Leinster to Ireland would, presumably, reduce the number of flights Lancaster is currently on over and back from his family home in Leeds on a weekly basis, and he certainly didn’t dismiss the possibility of working with Farrell again even if the roles were reversed this time. 

But Lancaster is clearly enjoying his role and responsibilities at Leinster under Leo Cullen, adopting a much more hands-on approach on the training paddock as well as investing time and effort into bringing younger players through the province’s system.

There is, he suggested, a certain loyalty to Leinster after they offered him the chance to resurrect his career, yet the province’s hopes of retaining their man may depend on whether Farrell wants Lancaster on his coaching team or not.

“I mean Leinster have been brilliant in giving me the opportunity and it wasn’t that long ago that my name wasn’t linked to any job,” Lancaster added.

“I do enjoy club coaching. I enjoy the day-to-day stuff. I’ve got a really active and fulfilling role at Leinster where I’m coaching most days of every week. I’m involved in developing leadership and I’m involved in developing players.

“I’m doing a session with the sub academy this week and do a lot of work with schools. So, it is a very fulfilling role which I’m doing at the moment. 

“International coaching is different, obviously. You’ve got periods of high levels of intensity, but then periods of not so much of activity where you’re tending to watch games. They are very different roles.

“I do enjoy what I’m doing at the moment.

“I can’t predict the future. The one thing that I can say is that I am very happy at Leinster. I have said that consistently. I have not been going around sending my CV out to anyone. Just to clarify, I have not had anyone ringing me. It is speculation.”

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