All The Rugby

“They didn’t play any rugby” Matt O’Connor, of Connacht, who Leinster had just narrowly beaten, 26th October 2013.

Leaving aside the unedifying nature of the Leinster head coach’s remarks about Connacht and turn that on its head. If Connacht didn’t play any rugby, then Leinster played all the rugby on the night, right? Sheesh – if that was all the rugby Leinster will play, they are in trouble. Saturday seemed to herald reality setting in around the Oar Dee Esh – Leinster are really in transition now, both in terms of personnel and gameplan. And grace of the head coach, but that’s another matter.

We have blogged about this recently, but it seems more real now after two successive home games in which Leinster played desperate rugby against two limited teams (apologies to our Western friends and any freaks who follow us in Castres).

The Scooby Doo ending after the Milky Bar Kid swanned off to Lansdowne Road to be biased in favour of Leinster players (© C. George, Cork) was that Matt O’Connor would come in, hand local favourite Ewan “Ian Madigan” Madeegan the keys to the house and continue to play the intelligent and incisive offloading and running game that Schmidty used to conquer Europe. After all, when he was hired, ‘continuity’ was the keyword bandied around by the bigwigs upstairs.  Sure, results might decline a little, but we’ll still get to the HEC/RCC (delete as per status on the financial-oblivion-o-meter) knock-out stages and the Pro12 playoffs, they said.

Now, they might still do that, but it seems they will be doing it the down and dirty way. There was a lot of pointing at Leicester Tigers try-scoring record and the surprising sight of Oooooooooh Manu Tuilagi eschewing running into someone to find actual space  when O’Connor pitched up in D4 – but the Tigers are the masters of the pragmatic and are fundamentally a team of tough forwards. O’Connor’s Leinster will be using route one as their base, and possibly adding baubles when the appropriate time comes.

And this is rankling a bit with the D4tress faithful [Aside: can one be faithful if not from Munster? Maybe faithful but not brave. Or something. JOKE] who have gotten fat on a diet of spellbinding tries and Europe-conquering under Schmidty. Don’t forget, when Cheika came in with a mandate to toughen up the pack who had been eaten up by the Liginds, there was plenty of discontentment about the grim style he adopted, even while it was acknowledged that his job was to start with the forwards. And the 2008 league win would have been a platform for absolutely nothing had they lost to Munster in *that* game in 2009.

They were rank outsiders for that game for a good reason. They had played a huge amount of dross in Europe that year – a limp defeat in Castres and a dire try-less drudge against Embra in their final game. The reason Leinster had to travel to the Stoop for the quarter-final was that they had qualified as the lowest-ranked group winner, in spite of a perfect start where they were on ten points after two tricky games – and then when they got there, the combination of manic defence, Quins butchery and a minor miracle got them through. The Liginds were a far superior team that got ambushed. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The functional league win and Stoop game have become part of the narrative, but it’s easy to forget how unhappy many Leinster fans were with the rugby being played by Cheika.

It’s easy to sympathise with O’Connor – he has an impossible succession job: his best player has left, his best remaining player is being heavily linked with a move to France, and the best player in Leinster’s (and Ireland’s) history has a maximum of twelve-ish games left in blue should he stay fit. Tough gig by anyone’s standards. But no-one at all expected Leinster to end up playing like this so quickly. Hopefully it’s a passing phase (the first this season in blue – lolzers) but it’s funny how quickly a decline can kick in – 21 months after the Munster Rolls-Royce cruised over the Galactico Ospreys side, they were a rabble being beaten senseless in Toulon and looking way, way over the hill. Leinster fans will hope that, if they do plumb the depths of those results, they at least do it while playing decent rugby. Right now, that doesn’t look a good bet.

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  1. phil casey

     /  October 30, 2013

    Guys, I enjoy reading your comments in my inbox. I’m an avid fan of rugby and have been for many years. There is one problem however. You always include made up words, and although one may have a suspicion as to their meaning it causes the reader to break flow, guess and continue, though one always wonders. This weeks, Oar Dee EshLigindslolzers

    Oh to read an unbroken flowing article, wouldn’t that be nice.

    • davyfarrell

       /  October 30, 2013

      Ah Phil – come on, these are long running in-jokes for fans of the blog that are meant to give a bit of a laugh. When was the last time you saw Gervais Thornley or any other print media journalist start and continue a funny in-joke? If you really don’t understand the reference, there’s a search field on the top right where you can trace the origins of the word in the lexicon of the blog. If you don’t like having to do that, then the lamestream media (© Fox News) might be a better source of news and analysis.

      Keep it going WOC! OOOOOOOOH!!!!

  2. Len

     /  October 30, 2013

    I’m not accepting the removal of sexton, Isa and BOD as an excuse for the dross we’re playing at the moment. The team need a serious kick in the ass. On Saturday our defensive line was slow and left gaps, we didn’t commit enough forwards to the breakdown and as a result suffered turnovers. We persisted with the policy of picking one experienced and one green player in the centre and yet again left McF on the wing (he’s looked a lot more dangerous when he’s come into the centre). Add to this the fact that we are making some tactically questionable decisions. Yes I’m holding the coach responsible for both the selection policy and general game plan, but I hold the team responsible for the performance. We also look to be trying to force things, making off loads and passes when they’re not on as opposed to just taking the ball into contact as if we’ve some how lost our ability to retain ball at the breakdown. It’s frustrating watching a team you know are capable of much more making such a hames? of the matches. The only silver lining so far is we keep wining. Hopefully one stand out performance will allow us to kick off this malaise and return to our old selves to some degree, although where that performance is going to come from I don’t know.

    • Jimbob

       /  October 30, 2013

      I agree that Ferg looks better when playing centre but didn’t he say that he wants to be considered only as a wing now? Granted, this was a year or two ago and his stance on this may have swung again.

      • Ultra Sur

         /  October 30, 2013

        Think he just asked to remain in one position, whichever that was. Schmidt went with wing.

  3. Len

     /  October 30, 2013

    I should also say well done to Connacht. Yet again they pushed Leinster for the full 80, played the better rugby and we’re unlucky not to come away with the points. Thought marmion was stupid getting himself sin bined the way he did.

  4. I think all Leinster fans will freely admit to being absolutely spoiled rotten in Schmidt’s reign – the spectacle we got to watch in most home games brought unadulterated joy to many people and you’re absolutely right, to see the regression to low risk, bulldozing forward and kick chase tactics is hard to stomach.

    But I’d refine the “transition” statement to solely the backs, the forward pack are mostly at their peak and while SOB and Heaslip may be reluctantly heading for the exit door, one could not accuse them of playing poorly – both have been in superb touch. Healy/McGrath are top notch, Cronin is playing excellently in the loose and mostly competently in the tight/set piece (did anyone else see him absolutely burn the Connacht winger on Saturday – wow!)

    The big frustration for me this season but in the last two games in particular was there was absolutely no effort to suck in defenders by attacking the pillars/sides of the ruck before going wide. That meant everytime the excellent D Kearney and slightly less excellent but still impressive Ferg got the ball they were swamped with 2 or 3 defenders – even Simon Geoghegan in his prime would struggle 9 times out of 10.

    The problem is compounded by the midfield and the lack of trust O’Connor has in D’arcy +1 (Macken, McFadden, etc). D’arcy has been shockingly inconsistent this season and the serious lack of positive yardage out of our 12 is crippling us. Couple that with how unproven and raw the pretenders to D’arce and BOD are – Luke excepted just means our backs are largely becoming redundant in an attacking sense.

    I think Noel Reid looks a fine player and whilst Goodman (now that he’s fit) wouldn’t be considered a great distributor his physical presence and ability to break tackles should help. My preference would be for Reid and Fitz to be given plenty of game time as they could end up in these positions for Leinster for the next 3/4 seasons if fit, with Goodman on away duty for Reid.

    • Len

       /  October 30, 2013

      Has anyone noticed that our attack plan which worked so well for the last few seasons in other words ‘attack the inside shoulder’ has completely vanished in favour of running laterally across the pitch.

  5. Yossarian

     /  October 30, 2013

    Change in game plan and a massive drop off in quality of our half backs has really hurt leinster. Gopperth/madigan are no sexton and our options at 9 are not the players they were 2/3 seasons ago.both are guilty of poor option taking and poor execution. People will start calling for McGrath to play but no guarantee he can deliver.
    Coupled with a hooker who is good for three or four turnovers based on his throw no wonder we look shaky.
    Set piece(and I include restart in that-we aren’t competing like we used to here) needs sorting,half backs need clearer instructions on what to do and clarity of what we are doing with the ball all need to be made clear. At the same time we have own two from two in Europe and nicely positioned in the league so Matt has bought some time.

  6. Oh and I really disliked the words and tone of O’Connor when he talked about Connacht – not on and disrespectful to a colleague within the IRFU who he should be working/engaging with under Schmidt. Hope that’s the last of it.

  7. Leinsterlion

     /  October 30, 2013

    Bring back David Knox.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  October 30, 2013

      Seriously though MOC did a massive disservice to rugby fans and Connacht by trying to brush off a clueless performance as down to Connacht defending their way to a (almost a) win. We played horribly and won, again, great but we now need to focus on performance. MOC was brought in to provide continutity, not reinvent in the wheel, or revert to log rollers as he has done so far, blaming the opposition is a cop out.
      MOC has done nothing to suggest he should be retained beyond this season let alone his initial contract, MOC deserves the year to see what he can do but we should be wary of falling into a McGahan situation like Munster had, a bastardisation of playing styles and personnel that accomplished nothing. Munster should have pulled the plug on McGahan sooner, they didnt to their detriment imo. Unless we finish the season on an upward trajectory, a Wayne Smith figure or assistant coach like Andrew Strawbridge should be parachuted in.
      Two years of McGahanesque mediocrity may be unnoticeable to certain crowds used to dire rugby(albeit with silverware to compensate for scorched retinas every weekend), but even when we didnt have success, Leinster fans at least had something pretty to watch and purr over.
      My rating for the MOC era so far, D+, considering the squad he’s had to deal with injuries etc he could be on a C+, but by dropping Maddog hes consigned to a barely passing grade.

      • Bueller

         /  October 30, 2013

        Are you a real person? Or has someone invented an automated response for WoC articles with an incredible algorithm for massive provincial bias?

        • Leinsterlion

           /  October 31, 2013

          I’m actually a complex NSA algorithm designed to decipher the dialect and accent of Islamic terrorists from Munster. Having deciphered and foiled their plot of attaching a tactical nuke to one of ROGs practice balls (which he launched into the stratosphere with regularity, many even reaching London). The whole five muslims in Munster are now in Guantanamo(via Shannon) thanks to my warrantless, cross border phone and email intercepts. Im now free to trawl rugby blogs in search of Islamic terrorists from Munster who appear to have fetishised an outhalf with a long kicking range with a hatred of the modern way of life, especially modern running rugby for some reason. The NSA don’t believe London is the target anymore, its the RDS……..

  8. Great read as ever WOC. I agree with Leinsterlion about the complete lack of style to our game now. Even when we we not winning European trophies a few years back Leinster were a great team to watch and going further back to 15 years or so ago playing teams such as Neath in Donnybrook on a Friday night you always knew that you would see good running rugby.
    I think if last Saturdays game went on all night Leinster would not have scored a try from open play.

  9. Yossarian

     /  October 30, 2013

    Madigan got the nod against Connacht but it didn’t change the performance. The problems are greater than personnel but not unrelated to it. A midfield pairing of Reid and Luke was unlikely to function well. The two Toms(daly and Farrell) can’t come soon enough but with academy prospects there is little guarantee of delivery. Worrying times.
    If, and I mean “if” we were to go for someone else there is no guarantee of improvements. Give him some time to put his structures in place with a fit team before we judge him. Defence has been strong(often the first system a coach will implement) the attack will take time to shape, let’s judge it then.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  October 30, 2013

      You are right of course, no need for knee jerk reactions, maybe part of the problem is that MOC is in essence double jobbing as Joe was, coaching attack and D. If defence is a priority why not hire a defence coach? Since McQuilkan left, our defence has been erratic to say the least, now we have the opposite problem, solid D and anemic attack.

  10. contraflow

     /  October 30, 2013

    Picking up on Leinsterlion’s McGahan reference, I was discussing with some friends recently if MOC is to be Leinster’s Tony McGahan. That is to say, is he a coach who is trying to futilely inflict an alien style of rugby on an unreceptive team, media and fanbase?

    McGahan tried to get Munster to play running rugby retaining possession. This goes against the Munster instinct and tradition to eschew possession in favour of field position. Let the opposition have the ball, but in their half, then bring huge pressure to bear through the forward pack. Backs are committed in defence and will kick for position rather than risk running which may lead to forfeiting field position which will precipitate scores.

    Is MOC trying to inflict a Leicester one-out-bosh forward power game on Leinster, where backs particularly centres eschew space for contact? Oppositions are worn down in attritional fashion through power not guile. This goes against Leinster’s century long running culture and is alien to team, fans and media.

    Leinster could always go around teams, with Cheika we learned how to through them and stop them going through us more importantly, but he never got rid of running rugby, Darce’s and Luke’s tries in HC semi 2009 were examples of how we were free to run when it was appropriate.

    The above “MOC equals McGahan” notion is just a theory so far as it is early enough to revert to our successful running possession orientated ways and MOC is supposedly a running orientated coach though we have seen little sign of it in Leinster yet.

    • Oh gawd, contraflow, what a terrible thought!

      Thing is, your last paragraph is correct. By all accounts he is ‘steeped in the attacking traditions of the Brumbies’, but there has been no sign of it so far. Curious to say the least.

  11. Matt

     /  October 30, 2013

    Very interesting to read the comments on this, particularly the mcgahan comparison. I remember even when Mubster beat Leinster in the Magners Leagues final under him I still thought as a neutral observer the atmosphere in the team was very flat, and obviously that was on one of their good days. So I think it could be a valid comparison of an alien style forced on the province.
    As an Ulster fan it is clear to see Munster and Leinster’s styles and identities as some other commenters have discussed. But my question, mainly to fans of the other provinces, what do they view Ulster’s style as? Personally, I’d say Ulster’s style has been mispresented by the media as close to a Saracens style Bosh-fest, but I don’t think this is accurate or fair, but a lazy generalisation due to the South African prescence. I think a good deal of this is due to the Heineken Cup game against Munster, where we didn’t play too much rugby after the first twenty. But it is too easy to say this is what Ulster’s about, as that season in the pro12 we were top scores, and we were second in that regard last year. Basically, I think Ulster’s style isn’t as clear as Munster or Leinster simply because we were so crap four or five years ago, and we just weren’t good enough to execute our game plan well so it wasn’t clear to see what we wanted to do. But even under Matt Williams and in McLaughlins first season, around the times I like to call the Clinton schicofske dark days, scored some absolutely glorious tries, like Trimby’s at the Rec and some if the ones at home to Stade. Then as ulster have grown in recent years, I’d say we’ve just got better at managing the game, mainly due to Ruan, but I’d argue classic Ulster play hasn’t been that Thomond game or the likes of the Glasgow home game last year. While those were both good wins, they were somewhat situation and weather enforced displays, and even the swashbuckling Leinster sides have had games where they somewhat shut up shop. So to summarise I’d say Ulster’s identity in my eyes is one of broken field play with great danger out wide, compared to Leinsters wonderful back line passing or Munster’s mauling and driving. Obviously this whole idea is very generalised, and good teams are good at everything, but I’d like to hear what others think Ulster’s identity is. (Whiff could even do an article on this!!!)

    • Amiga500

       /  October 30, 2013

      I suppose, if you were to try and pigeon hole it

      – Leinster have built field position mainly from the running of their back row and centres. Now that D’Arcy is fading and Drico’s substantial star is waning they are struggling to move up the pitch coherently.
      – Munster built field position from the lineout prowess of their front 10 (Radge was an integral part of it). But, no John Hayes and injury issues with POC have limited their ability to rely on it.
      – Ulster are more reliant on their back 3 to move the team up the pitch, with kick-chase, counter attacking or cutting inside lines off the centres/backrow. But are now blossoming into a good all-round team. Whether they become great remains to be seen.

    • Matt, I think we’re getting better to watch as we’re getting better. Friday was very entertaining, and while we’ve not had quite as strong a start as last year, if anything we’ve been more fun.

      We’re still making too many handling errors – though a certain amount have to be excused as it goes hand-in-hand with ambition, it’s too many atm – but more than make up for it with our attacking patterns and ability to open teams up. If we can get slicker we could dish out some real beatings.

      However, it’s international window time so all bets are off. Who knows what sort of team we’ll have out this weekend? Same goes for the other sides, bit of a lottery.

      That’s in no way a characterisation of our style of play. I could waffle on all day about that, but I’ve work to do.

  12. jojo

     /  October 30, 2013

    Ulster for me: physicality and ruthless opportunism and counter attack.

  13. When the 9th word – and fist named province – in the post was “Connacht” I thought the blog might be looking a little further out from the usual subjects for a change, but then normality ensued.

    • contraflow

       /  October 31, 2013

      “fist named province”… If I call Connacht “The FIST” from now on will people know what I mean? The FIST from the Whhhest!!!!

      Excellent typo salmsonconnacht, brightened up my morning. Perhaps WOC can do a Connacht-centric blog soon for our Western Brethren.

      • Connachtexile

         /  October 31, 2013

        “Perhaps WOC can do a Connacht-centric blog soon for our Western Brethren.” – That would be nice.

        As for Ulster I think there style has changed in the past few seasons were it has become a more evolved all round game. This is down to a number of factors such as the Saffers, Bowe coming back and the Ulster academy producing gem and gem. Humphries and Co. have done a great job up there.

      • ******* auto-(un)correct 😀

    • Gawd your comments are a bore. WOC is one half Leinster, one half Ulster. If you want to read a Connacht blog (you and the other borefests of Connacht commenters), why don’t you write one?

  14. Yossarian

     /  October 31, 2013

    Ulster arguably have the best half backs of any of the provinces. Pienar would start ahead of Murray and Jackson in all likelihood will be back up to the departed sexton. These two allied with an immensely confrontational pack of forwards and a physical back line with a dose of guile provided by Payne have given ulster a great platform this season.
    Connacht failure to score for large sections of games is killing them. They seem to score early and defend for long stages and invariably get hauled back. Hard to describe what style of play lam is trying to employ as yet

  15. Luke

     /  October 31, 2013

    The biggest problem for Leinster between last year and this is the personnel changes in the backline. Reddan and Boss are rapidly approaching retirement, Sexton is gone, Darcy has weakened, BOD is rarely in blue, Conway and Carr didn’t work out, Nacewa is in NZ and Fitz hasn’t played a substantial number of games in God knows how long. That’s almost an entire backline that’s had to change in two seasons, unlike the forwards who are virtually all longstanding first team members. It’s going to take time for a substantive new backline to be properly identified, and longer again for it to come up to speed. McGrath, Madigan, McFadden, Fitz, DK, RK and ZK may turn out to be exactly what we need, but it’s not going to take off instantly.

  16. LongTimeLadyBoy

     /  October 31, 2013

    Leinster conceded a lot of tries towards the end of last season. It hardly mattered as they were streets ahead in attack. They beat teams round the park. The 3 Amlin games were exhibitions. During the 6 nations the second stringers brought the team from 5th to top of the league.
    There have been several midfield partnerships in 8 games this year. They need consistency to engineer patterns and awareness. Its too easy to compare to a seasoned team finishing last year to a far less experienced backline this season. Any club backline in the world would suffer from losing BOD (1 game this year), Sexton, Nacewa.
    Confidence stems from winning. Hence coaches start with defence. Win ugly then win pretty. Leinster have 2 bonus point wins this season, so while recent performances have been below par its not all bad.

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