Stuart Lancaster watched on with pride as England completed the year unbeaten but he is focused on helping to end the Anglo-French monopoly of the Champions Cup when Leinster travel to Northampton Saints on Friday evening.
Lancaster — the former England boss — took up his Leinster position as ‘senior coach’ in September; a post focused on attack and defence and is more hands-on than the one he had with the national side. He is enjoying life in Dublin and offering his coaching thoughts to a team headed up by Leo Cullen.
Friday night’s match at Franklin’s Gardens will be the first time he has coached back in England since he left the national team post in the wake of the 2015 World Cup and he is looking forward to catching up with familiar faces having coached a host of the Saints’ squad in his former roles with the Rugby Football Union.
But that spell is consigned to a previous life and Lancaster is concentrating on how to unpick the Saints defence and ensure Leinster, who are top of Pool 4, progress to the knockouts.
“The English teams have a really tough 12 teams and in the PRO12 the top end teams that we play against — there’s the Ospreys, the Scarlets beat us the other day — and across the board the top end teams in the PRO12 are well-equipped to go head-to-head with the English and French teams,” Lancaster said.
“I’m pretty open-minded about the future.”
Stuart Lancaster on what lies ahead
“Speaking to coaches from the other teams and understanding the pride that Ulster, Munster and Glasgow have, there was a real sense of disappointment [at last year’s Champions Cup performance across the PRO12].
“The European Cup is a massive motivator for the PRO12 teams. Glasgow beat Leicester in the first match this season and that set the marker to show the level of competition in the PRO12 is right up there. Having coached in it now I can see why any game is competitive.”
The Saints will be buoyed by their returning England contingent and Lancaster has kept an eye on their fortunes over the past year. He is not surprised by their success and says Eddie Jones “deserves the credit” for getting “the best out of a very experienced team”.
And when asked if Lancaster felt an element of pride at England’s unbeaten year, he said: “Yeah, obviously. We finished the World Cup in hugely disappointing fashion, but I sat down with Eddie not long after I lost the role and Eddie came in.
“I said to him, I think there’s a good squad here, a good group of players. He’s brought his own personality and style to the team, which they’ve benefited from. You are pleased that the hard work has paid off.”
Lancaster was linked with a number of posts before taking up the Leinster job and continues to be mentioned when vacancies arise. Recently he was suggested as a possible successor to Pat Lam at Connacht but he is focused solely on his Leinster contract, which runs to the end of the season.
“I’m certainly having to prove myself to players here [at Leinster],” Lancaster said. “These players are top end players who have been coached by some very good coaches. That’s what drives me more than anything else.
“I don’t miss certain parts of the [head coach] job and I do enjoy being back coaching again. We’ll see. I’m pretty open-minded about the future. It’s been a great move to come back into a top-end European club with great players. But I’ve learned now not to plan too far ahead.”
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Lancaster out to end Anglo-French Champions Cup monopoly
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