The news that former England Head Coach Stuart Lancaster is leaving Leinster after signing a contract to become head coach of Racing 92 from next season is a major blow for the eastern province and its head coach Leo Cullen.
Cullen was tight-lipped on Lancaster’s future when speaking to the media last week, saying only: “We are in a period of speculation, but there has always been things going on in the background.”
Since joining Leinster in 2016, Lancaster has been the brains behind new plays and developments which has seen the province win a Pro14 and European double in 2018.
With former outhalf Felipe Contepomi and Denis Leamy having left in the summer, it means there will be plenty of change for the Dublin based outfit in the coming season.
On the field of play, there was better news for Leo Cullen as his charges ran in six tries in total, four from Dan Sheehan, as they kicked off their URC campaign in style with maximum points following a 42-10 win over Benetton.
Stuart Lancaster at Leinster squad training in May. INPHO/BEN BRADY
Like the previous week also against Italian opposition, they started impressively with three tries but this time drove on instead of sitting on their lead. Three more second-half tries guaranteed them victory and a bonus-point for scoring four tries or more.
The pack dominated from start to finish and three of Sheehan’s touch downs came from the back of a maul.
Said Cullen afterwards: “Dan is dynamic, the forwards laid a good platform for him. Ronan Kelleher was good when he came on too, but the two lads are driving each other on.”
After two relatively easy games, Leinster face a real test at the weekend when they take on Ulster in Belfast.
“There was lots of good intent, there’s parts of our game which still needs work and attention. The guys have had a decent start, but they’ll be excited about the trip to Belfast. We lost there last year, it’ll be a ding-dong battle again,” he predicted.
Cooney the master with 30-point show
Ulster 55; Scarlets 39
How Ulster scrum-half John Cooney doesn’t get near the Ireland team is bewildering to many people, especially those who watch him north of the border week on week.
Once again he was the province’s main man as he scored 30 points in the defeat of Scarlets as part of a 12-try thriller in Wales.
Cooney ran in for two tries, with Alan O'Connor, Martin Moore, Marcus Rea, Billy Burns and Tom O’Toole joining him for touchdown celebrations of their own. The scrum-half showed his top form by converting all seven as well as adding two penalties.
Aki sees red as Connacht blown away
Stormers 38; Connacht 15
Ireland centre Bundee Aki, who had just come on as a replacement, saw red after his clear out tackle was adjudged to be dangerous and resulted in a red card and the end of Connacht’s chances of staging a comeback when they were still in United Rugby Championship game against the Stormers in Stellenbosch.
Evan Roos’ try helped the home take a 13-8 lead into half-time with other scores from the boot of Manie Libbok, while Connacht’s Dylan Tierney-Martin going over to give his side hope for the resumption.
Connacht were still trailing by 19-8 down when Aki saw red and the game was over as a contest soon after when the home side took advantage of their superior numbers to run in tries from Andre-Hugo Venter and Hacjivah Dayimani. The visitors never gave up and Jack Aungier got a consolation score.
Meanwhile Munster’s shocking start under new boss Graham Rowntree continued in Wales when they lost 23-17 defeat to the Dragons.
It took a brilliant individual try from Rio Dyer to change the course of the game in the second half when Munster were three points to the good. There was a sense of satisfaction for former Munster out-half JJ Hanrahan who kicked six penalties against his one-time teammates.