With Leinster’s players having returned to pre-season training last week its looking a little clearer who will replace Matt O’Connor as coach for next season.
Leo Cullen remains in place as interim head-coach, and this looks set to continue for the 2015/16 season after all the major contenders for the job such as former Australia coach Robbie Deans distanced themselves from taking over the RDS hot-seat.
Deans was in Ireland back in May with the Barbarians but negotiations fell through as the Leinster hierarchy moved on in their search for a successor to O’Connor. The 55-year-old New Zealander decided to remain in Japan as coach of the Panasonic Wild Knights.
It was all the more surprising as the 2014 Pro12 winners have bolstered their squad and look set to challenge for honours next term. An element that will certainly benefit the new coach is the return of Jonny Sexton. The Irish fly-half’s absence over the last two seasons has coincided in the Blues fall from grace on the European stage.
He returns an even better player than when he left for Racing Metro and will look to give whoever plays behind him the direction that has been missing over the past 12 months. With Isa Nacewa also returning to the province, the squad has begun to look a lot stronger.
Vern Cotter and Jono Gibbes have been linked with the job too along with former All-Black Tony Brown who is a relatively unknown prospect in Europe.
But Leinster CEO Mick Dawson appears intent on bringing the 40-year-old New Zealander to Dublin after he made an impression in the southern-hemisphere this season. Brown may not be familiar to many fans on this side of the globe, but in his native country he is viewed as an up and coming coach.
The 18 times capped All-Black has links to Ireland too after his brother Cory was previously involved with the back-room staff at Connacht.
Currently operating as backs coach with the Highlanders, Brown is given massive credit with helping the Otago side win their first ever Super Rugby title as they defeated the Hurricanes last weekend in Wellington.
Brown looks set to be assistant to Cullen for the 15/16 season, which will be a no lose situation. If Leinster do well he may go to France and if they have a poor season he will no doubt get the head job for 16/17.
After an incredibly disappointing 5th place finish in the Pro12 under Matt O’Connor last season one of the criticisms directed at the 3 times European Champions was their pedestrian paced attacking. This is something Mick Dawson appears to be trying to address by appointing a backs coach such as Brown who will attempt to recreate some of the attacking flair he introduced to the Highlanders backline on their way to the top of the Super Rugby ladder.
Waisake Naholo and Lima Sapoaga have led the way for the Highlanders this season. Sapoaga led the scoring charts on 191 points and Brown has developed Naholo into a top-class wing who has been signed by Champions Cup runners-up Clermont Auvergne after he scored 13 tries on the Highlander’s run to the Super Rugby title.
Sapoaga has not stopped short in his praise of Brown either. If his comments are anything to go by then Brown looks like the perfect replacement for Leinster if they are aiming to recapture the free-flowing rugby associated with the Michael Cheika and Joe Schmidt eras.
“Browny comes up with plays that really excite us all,” he said in a recent interview.
“That’s what I think is coming out in our game. Players are excited because we want to do these cool moves and we are challenging ourselves to execute them as best we can.”
“I guess that creativity can disappear in professional rugby, but it doesn’t disappear from Browny. He’s always dreaming up new ways to score tries or new moves. It’s good fun.”