Stuart Lancaster would be a “perfect” choice to join Warren Gatland’s Lions’ coaching team in South Africa next year, says Lions legend Sean O’Brien.
Gatland revealed he had spoken to Lancaster, although the ex-England boss quickly played down suggestions he had already been offered a role.
O’Brien – a hero of the last two unbeaten tours to Australia and New Zealand, and who was coached by Lancaster at Leinster – says Gatland should not hesitate to bring on board a man who has achieved huge success in Irish rugby since his arrival in 2016.
“I think Stuart would be perfect on a tour like that,” O’Brien told The Rugby Paper. “With his style and what he expects of players and the balance he has between work and being able to relax, he has an awful lot of knowledge and value to bring to that set-up.
“He’s very experienced now with what he’s done in the past few years and being back in coaching – doing what he loves – I just think it would be a great fit. Time will tell, I suppose, but he’s definitely someone who would add a lot to the Lions, there’s no doubt.”
After his tenure as head coach of England reached a nadir in 2015, when failure to progress from the Pool stage of a home World Cup cost him his job, Lancaster, 50, took a year out before rebuilding his career and reputation in brilliant fashion with Leinster.
While Leinster’s players might have been suspicious of the Englishman, O’Brien insists they rapidly embraced a man who, alongside head coach Leo Cullen, has helped steer the Irish province to successive PRO 14 titles and Champions Cup success.
O’Brien added: “I don’t think anyone was wary of him at all at Leinster and as far as respect and trust for him was concerned, we had that from the word go.
“It obviously grew over time and if you look back at the career of Stuart Lancaster, I think he was unlucky at that World Cup. He’d done everything before that – beaten the All Blacks etc – and England were hard to beat at that stage, but a few decisions didn’t go their way and next minute he’s one of the worst coaches to ever have coached England.
“There was a lot of stuff said about him that was unfair, in my opinion, but when he came into us, he was very clear in what he wanted to do and very good at improving everyone and making them the best in their positions. He’d often say to you, ‘Where do you want to be at the end of this year and how can I help you get there?’ – and we achieved it.
“It was really refreshing to have someone like that and he would give you a kick in the backside if you needed it as well. If you weren’t doing what you’d been told to he’d hit you straight between the eyes with it, which is brilliant for any group of players.”
Now plying his trade at London Irish, No.8 O’Brien, 33, has not entirely given up hope of making a third Lions tour. His case would be boosted if the Exiles could secure a top-eight Premiership finish and a place in next season’s Heineken Champions Cup.
He added: “It’s an incentive but we want to be in a better place than eighth come the end of the year and whatever follows – Champions Cup etc – would be brilliant for the club and players. We’ll keep the head down and hopefully be in that position.”