Leinster choose Matt O'Connor to replace coach Joe Schmidt
O'Connor has big shoes to fill in Dublin
Life may soon be just a little quieter at Leicester – not because Richard Cockerill, the Premiership semi-finalists' unusually resonant boss, is due a bout of laryngitis, but because his principal colleague in the Welford Road fortissimo fraternity, Matt O'Connor, is heading across the Irish Sea. O'Connor has landed the plum coaching job at Leinster, the reigning European champions, and while the Australian leaves with Cockerill's blessing, he will be sorely missed in the East Midlands. A couple of insider names are already doing the rounds locally as Cockerill searches for a replacement, most notably that of Geordan Murphy, the long-serving Leicester full-back who is expected to call it a day at the end of the season.
But the task of running the Leicester backs is not obviously one for a rookie coach and if, as rumoured, the former All Black centre Aaron Mauger shows serious interest, he will be difficult to ignore. Mauger played for the club between 2007 and 2010 and knows a thing or two about the game.
O'Connor has big shoes to fill in Dublin, where Joe Schmidt, the newly-appointed Ireland national coach, is in the final weeks of a wildly successful spell. But his experience in Australia with the ACT Brumbies, so often to be found at the cutting edge of tactical thinking, and his positive role in developing some of Leicester's top acts – Ben Youngs, Toby Flood, Manu Tuilagi – will stand him in good stead.
"I'm delighted to be joining Leinster: the playing staff, coaching team and facilities are first class and I have been hugely encouraged by the hunger within the province to push on despite enjoying an unprecedented period of success on the field in recent years," said the 42-year-old, who won a single Wallaby cap – against Ireland, of all people – in 1994.
Talking of the Wallabies, the influential lock James Horwill, their captain at the last World Cup, has agreed a contract extension with the Australian union that will take him through to the next global gathering, in England in 2015. The deal underlines his value to the team and will almost certainly lead to his re-appointment as skipper for the forthcoming British and Irish Lions tour. "The main thing is to focus on what's dead ahead, and that couldn't be more exciting," Horwill said. "Playing against the Lions is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you can feel the excitement around the country. It's coming up quickly now and you can really feel the intensity it has brought to the Super 15 tournament."
Meanwhile, Newcastle's designs on an immediate return to the Premiership received a nasty jolt yesterday when they lost the first leg of their second-tier Championship semi-final against Leeds, who scored a sucker-punch try in stoppage time through back-rower Ryan Burrows and won 24-19. The Yorkshiremen now head to Tyneside for the decisive encounter on Sunday. The other semi-final will be decided at Nottingham on Friday night, with the visitors Bedford carrying a nine-point lead from the first contest.
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