That Empty Feeling

Munster fans are only delighted with themselves, Ulster folk at least have a sense of injustice and great pride to fall back on, but for the RDS faithful, the only feeling is one of emptiness, after their team was deconstructed in Toulon last weekend. Going away to the bigger French teams is never easy, and there’s always a sense that if the home side can get its tails up they can pull away on the scoreboard. It wasn’t wholly dissimilar to the semi-final in Toulouse in Michael Cheika’s final season. Leinster hung on by the skin of their teeth in the first half, but a third-quarter power play took the game away from them. Everyone talks about the French sides blowing tams away from the off, but more often they fool the opposition into thinking they’re in the game before upping the ante.

Where to start? Well, we can begin by paying no attention to the garbled nonsense about which entry the players came in and focus on on-pitch events instead. The scrum and maul were fine, positives even, but the rest were not. Leinster’s attack was feeble, replete with handling errors, a 10 playing miles behind the gainline and toothless running lines. The breakdown was a veritable crime scene, with Armitage and Basteraud perpetrators of one ball theft after another. Leinster were powerless to dislodge them. And then there was the defence. What could explain so many missed first-up-tackles? When watching rugby the brain often goes into a semi-conscious auto-forecasting mode. The eyes see a player running off not-especially-fast ball at another player, and the brain gets ready for another ruck to form. The eyes may even allow themselves to become momentarily distracted. Except the next thing they see is the same player with the ball running in open country. Brain? This is not what you said would happen!

Toulon get routinely derided by the likes of Gerry as a bunch of nouveau riche arrivistes, but the reality is they are a proper club- the players and fans have a real bond, and there is none of the Saracens faux-atmospheric blaring music, only newspapers in the air and loud singing. Wilko has previously warned players seeking only a fat paycheque to look elsewhere (Paris!) and the performances of the likes of Danie Roussouw and Bakkies Botha since they arrived have shown real commitment. The Armitages were seen in the crowd bonding with fans after the game, and anyone who calls Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe a mercenary should be taken out and shot… or worse still made to say it to his face.

And whatever you think about Boudjellal, he isn’t some shadowy Abramovich figure. He is Toulon born-and-bred, a passionate supporter of RCT but a self-made millionaire with a cool business brain – he has increased turnover 6-fold and now reckons the club is self-sustaining, even with the huge wage bills of the squad. He has been the driver behind the success of Toulon, and let’s be clear, no team can win the HEC and get to the Top14 final without being a proper team, not a bunch of individual mercenaries – and when these guys play as one, at home, forget about beating them.

For all that, and if the truth be told, this was the game in which Leinster’s chickens came home to roost. They just haven’t played that well all season. Even their best performance, the all-conquering away win in Northampton, had the gloss taken off it by losing the reverse fixture a week later. Anyone who watched Leinster at home to Ospreys in the last round of the Heineken Cup, away to Munster or at home to Zebre recently will know that this is a side who have spluttered through much of the season.

One person copping a serious amount of flak in the aftermath is Matt O’Connor. In polite society, it’s traditional for a coach in his first year to get something of a free pass, but this was a season-defining match for Leinster. As Alan Quinlan put it in his column in the Irish Times, this was O’Connor’s chance to get the ‘O’Connor era’ up and running. Well he has now, but not in the way he’d have wanted. It’s a tough gig coming in after Joe Schmidt, with some aging stars and a fanbase accustomed to success, but the drop-off in the accuracy of Leinster’s play has been noticeable (while that of Ireland has improved dramatically). It can’t be coincidental. Would any Joe Schmidt side have been so comprehensively dominated at the breakdown like that? No coach can completely gameplan a player as good as Steffon Armitage out of a match, but we’d expect a Schmidt-coached side to have a specific plan to deal with a player of his calibre.

Then there’s Gopperth-gate, and the curious comments from Matt O’Connor since the match, with regard to Ian Madigan. O’Connor has admitted that Gopperth was slightly undercooked going into the game, but then why didn’t he play him against Munster the previous week? Did the IRFU insist on Madigan getting the start? Is this high-octane game not scheduled with exactly that sort of thing in mind? The subsequent criticism of Ian Madigan’s ability to ‘control the front end of the game’ confirm his lack of confidence in a player who performed superbly last season but has yet to really flourish under the current coach. It didn’t paint O’Connor in the best light, showing him to be slightly flummoxed and operating on the back foot. When O’Connor was named as coach, we listed building the team around Madigan and developing the Blackrock man’s game in the same way Schmidt did with Sexton, as one of O’Connor’s principal tasks. It hasn’t worked out that way, not yet at least.

The clamour to declare half the team past it is under way in some quarters, but there isn’t a huge amount of drastic surgery needed. Some players just played badly and there’s not much you can do about that. Toner and D’arcy had off days, but they’ve been among Leinster’s best players this season. Shane Jennings was man-of-the-match the week before, but had a really poor game. Any team would miss Sean O’Brien and he’ll be back next season. Obviously, a 13 will have to be found for next year, and the pain of Eoin O’Malley’s forced retirement has never been more acute. Luke Fitzgerald, surely, should be the first to audition.

All is not yet lost and Leinster find themselves in a good position in the Pro12. Don’t let their placing at the top of the league mask the fact that they haven’t played all that brilliantly, but it does at least give them a good chance of winning the pot, because home advantage for the semi-finals and final, when the intensity ramps up, is invaluable. Winning it is necessary to redeem the season, but with Munster, Ulster and Glasgow for company, Leinster will need to play with a good deal more structure and direction, in order to do so.

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49 Comments

  1. curates_egg

     /  April 10, 2014

    Toulon played to their potential and we turned up poorly prepared and left with our trousers around our ankles. Toulon have such a phenomenal squad of players and such a powerful side and when they show up, they are unstoppable.

    I have watched them a bit over the past few years and they have a tendency to blow teams away in the second half (and just plod through first halves), so while it was a relief not to be behind at half time, the writing was on the wall at that point. Wilkinson going off actually worked to their advantage, as either Giteau or Michalak are much better at standing flat and taking the ball to the line (in stark contrast with how the Leinster outhalf played or was instructed to play on Sunday).

    The gameplan stunk from the outset. We were never going to win the game with overcooked up-and-unders and lacklustre kick-chase. It was clear the breakdown was not going to be favourable to us (with Barnes and the power of Toulon), so why play for it? As mentioned, Toulon are a second half team, so we needed to win the first half…not just hang in. It was naive and ill-prepared.

    The selection of Gopperth and/or how he was instructed to play was a mistake and for MOC to try and make Madigan and the IRFU a scapegoat for this is nothing short of a disgrace. I really want to like O’Connor but he really consistently rubs me up the wrong way. How must Madigan feel about another season with him after these comments?

    Finally, on the 26 missed tackles: defense has has been a persistent problem all season and this suggests a defensive system failure (in the Pro12 we have conceded more tries than the other top 5 sides). Our midfield has been filleted by far weaker teams than Toulon. It seems Leinster really need to hire a a defensive coach stat (Bernard Jackman unfortunately is not available yet), so O’Connor can focus on what he supposedly does well: backs (rather than shitting on the talented backs at his disposal).

    • D6W

       /  April 10, 2014

      Could not agree more. I addition to blaming IRFU and Madigan, his comment that Leinster will need more NIQ in future to compete is an insult at all Irish players, including the ones he is currently coaching. Joe clearly does not agree, or he would not be coaching Ireland.

      It struck me that he is now making ill-advised comments seemingly not caring about who he is offending, in just the same way Penny has been doing recently. I wonder if someone has had a word…

      • curates_egg

         /  April 10, 2014

        To be clear, even though I don’t like his attitude and am concerned with how he has managed Leinster, I am not calling for his head and am totally behind the team. Assuming Leinster persists with O’Connor though (and with us at the top of the table that is merited), he clearly needs help in the form of a defense coach. A couple of player signings would also help (centre, maybe a second row, maybe a scrum half). However, from his end, I would hope he would actually support his developing players (like Madigan) and not dump on them publicly. If I were Madigan, I would be looking to break my contract and leave if what O’Connor is reported as saying is true and in context.

        • Stevo

           /  April 10, 2014

          One of O’Connor’s stated goals for this season was to change the way Leinster defend. Changing a defensive system is probably at least a year-long project, don’t you think it might be a bit early to decide that this is the area most in need of a change in the coaching setup? Especially given that this kind of system change is always likely to be two-steps-back before taking three-steps-forward?

          It seems to me that the area that we’re struggling in is in attack. Perhaps this can be put down to retirements and aging players, but either way, something has to change.

          • curates_egg

             /  April 10, 2014

            To be fair, we leaked proportionally more tries last year (2 per game, compared to 1.5 this year), so I am not saying he took over a great system. It is the porous nature of the midfield that is my concern. It seems like a major system malfunction and only an excellent cover defense has enabled us to be in the position we are in (I can think of countless tries stopped through our scramble defense).

            O’Connor is a backs coach but our back play has been very hit and miss. Is this because he is rebuilding a defensive system? If it is – and looking at the persisting problems with the defensive system – maybe it would be better to get someone in that is a defensive expert and allow O’Connor to do what he supposedly does best (but of which we have seen scant evidence this season).

        • Scrumdog

           /  April 10, 2014

          Egg, I agree with everything you are saying. In addition I don’t think Gopperth has anything to offer Leinster other than basic out-half skill sets which is fine but Leinster need a game breaker at 10 who’ll lift and ignite the players around him. Another 10 might be brought in and Madigan given the 10 shirt to lose. If Sexton returns to Leinster at the end of his contract..what happens Madigan? One year is all the time he has to establish himself as the number one choice at Leinster. Leinster could try signing Wayne Smith for backs coach.

      • Stevo

         /  April 10, 2014

        I haven’t read exactly what Matt O’Connor said about Leinster needing more NIQ players in future, but on the surface I’m not sure it’s insulting. Leinster (and the other provinces) have continually benefitted over the years from NIQ players in key positions. This is the first year for a long time Leinster haven’t had a real quality NIQ player in their ranks – Kirchner not having done nearly enough to prove otherwise. I’m sure the IRFU would love to see four provinces fielding all Irish players, but I wouldn’t. I like the impact that guys like Howlett, Nacewa, Thorn, Botha, Afoa, Muller, Elsom, Williams(Jim & Nick), Contepomi, Pienaar etc. have on our provinces.

        • Leinsterlion

           /  April 10, 2014

          Leinsters NIQ recruitment has been poor for a while now(in comparison to other provinces), we need high quality players, not duds like Lote, ZK, Sykes etc. Whoever is making these signing needs to look at the impact Ulster and Munsters NIQs have had and look at the players taking up our spots and reassess.

          • D6W

             /  April 10, 2014

            Harsh to call Kirchner a dud, he has played quite well. Problem is that he is brought in to play FB/Wing, two positions where Leinster have relatively good cover.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  April 10, 2014

            @D6W, well what else would you call him, he isnt better then what we have, signed in a position we have acres of players, I’d call that a dud.

        • Hold on .. I thought only Ulster had foreigners?

          • Stevo

             /  April 10, 2014

            I don’t work for the Dublin Media/Munster Meeja (delete as appropriate)!

          • EVERYONE has foreigners: Ulster get the good, expensive ones, and the rest of the provinces get round eight of the draft 😉

          • Hahahah. When Botha went to Munster he became the best-paid player in Ireland, and Ulster brought in Afoa for less than half what Botha wanted

  2. I too have been giving Matt O’Connor the benefit of the doubt since the season began. After our abysmal performance against Toulon, that phase is definitely over for me. I could understand his wanting to bed Gopperth in the team initially and the decisions to start him away in the Heino against Ospreys and Castres proved this a success. The price however has been the neglect of Ian Madigan and all the potential he has to step into Johnny Sexton’s shoes and to be his replacement in the Irish shirt, if our first 10 is injured. The disaster in Toulon – only Toulouse in Thomond put in a worse showing than us on this weekend – would seem to indicate a lack of belief among the players in the coach and his tactics. Murray Kinsella in his fabulous analysis of the match alludes to this: http://thescore.thejournal.ie/leinster-toulon-analysis-heineken-cup-1406640-Apr2014/. If Leinster manage to win the Rabo I’m inclined to think it will be more down to the players and the structures, which were in place when Joe Schmidt left, than anything MO’C has brought to the club.

  3. aoifehamill

     /  April 10, 2014

    I was at the match and haven’t managed to watch it back yet (don’t know if I can handle it!) but it felt like Leinster beat themselves. Toulon were excellent but Leinster butchered a few really good opportunities in the first half and then fell apart when Toulon turned it on in the second.

    Madigan was standing on the sideline like he’d been told to come on for an absolute age – it looked like O’Connor chickened out of putting him on. I like Gopperth but he was having a bad game and something had to change. MOC’s comments afterwards were pretty strange to be honest.

    One other puzzling thing is the Luke Fitzgerald situation. Word from one of the players’ family members was that he was injured. Word from someone working in Leinster was that he was just dropped. I don’t understand given his recent form how he would be completely dropped – he’s one of the few Leinster backs that is good for lots of linebreaks. On the other hand, if he’s injured, why not announce it? Is this some kind of PR ruse that I don’t understand?

    +1 on the whole “where the team entered the pitch” thing being a load of balls. The team’s accuracy and intensity were definitely not at peak but the pre-match decisions like that seem pretty irrelevant – they’re just used to suit the narrative after the match (as Eoin from Second Captains pointed out to Gerry Thornley).

    Also have to agree on Toulon being a proper club. The place was completely taken over by the match for the weekend and everybody there was mad into it. Re the fans, it was actually a pretty similar experience to when I was at an away Clermont match and that’s high praise indeed.

    • curates_egg

       /  April 10, 2014

      Didn’t think it came close to Toulouse, Clermont or other French rugby towns I’ve been in terms of general atmosphere in the town and the buy-in. It is great that they have the stadium right in the centre of the town but it seems most of the supporters are from the hinterlands rather than the town. In some of the smaller satellite towns I found a lot more actual rugby fans than in Toulon itself (which was totally dead within an hour of the match). That said, it is clearly a well supported club in the region, and that is nice to see. It is definitely a proper club.

      • aoifehamill

         /  April 10, 2014

        It was dead within a few hours alright (think an hour is a slight exaggeration!) but it was Sunday night to be fair and everything was closing… The place was wedged from early in the day.

    • dudbox

       /  April 11, 2014

      I was at the Toulon game and 24 hrs before that and can agree with that sentiment about the Toulon fans. The whole city was up for it.

      It was a great atmosphete and we found ourselves in with the scrum outside the stadium watching the Toulon team entering.

      Professional teams dont need to walk through a partisan crowd to know they are in a tough away environment, and its not like Leinster have a bad record on the road.

      We lost as Murray Kinsella’s analysis says, due to a poorly conceived and poorly executed performance.

      Clermont and Toulon are fabulous away trips for the future Cash Cup.

  4. Leinsterlion

     /  April 10, 2014

    Pre-Season we were told, MOC is great, bringing a new focus, tweaking(not lobotomising) successful system so they would not be stale, involving senior players, everything was looking great, apart from MOCs track record of actually coaching that is, and the indifferent Leicester fans reaction to his leaving, that was glossed over, new coach and all that.
    At the start of the season, we were told our lackluster attack was due to our new coach focusing on bedding in defensive structures, build a solid foundation etc, before moving onto the attack side of things, have patience etc was the mantra. This has all proven to be false our defense has gotten worse as the season has gone on, and our attack has floundered(how hard is it to tell Madigan to receive flat and have two players running lines off him?).
    This entire season is a write off, if we finished the season as the best defensive team in Europe and domestic competition, you could say, fair enough, MOC made us tough to beat, shit performances aside, its adequate. If we went out, playing running rugby, trying to score tries, doing positive things with possession, at least it would have been entertaining to watch, even if failure is the result. Instead we get the worst of both scenarios, crap defence and crap attack, with failure being the end product.
    People can point to an aging squad etc, but look at the times we played high tempo stuff, Jenno, Madigan, Redden etc stepped up, its obvious MOC has the handbrake on( Gopperth and his tactics being the handbrake). We are playing dull insipid rugby and the buck stops with him, OFF WITH HIS HEAD(or at least bring in an attack(David Knox, semi srs) and defence(Kurt McQuilkin 100% srs) coach and a recruitment adviser(I think Lote is evidence enough he cant be trusted with a checkbook). MOC is not up to doing any of those roles on this seasons evidence.
    Matt is a Moyes rather then a Mourinho, In that I cant see either lasting beyond next season before a qualified coach is brought in. The team has regressed in literally every area under his watch, his tactics and selections have been bizarre(rotating between Madigan and an ITM cup cast off). The Toulon debacle is the culmination of a seasons worth of dross populated by rare bright spots and enumerable woeful performances. There is no reason for next season to be any different, I wouldn’t trust him with an NIQ signing that he is bleating about, we could hand him Conrad Smith to play 13 and he would turn him into Keith Earls.

  5. Yossarian

     /  April 10, 2014

    I don’t buy this is an ageing squad argument, it is not the same as McGann in Munster when an international 1-10 all essentially were going at the same time. The age profile in Leinster is still quite reasonable with a lot of guys in key positions at an age when they should be peaking.Leo,Jennings,BOD,D’Arcy,Ross are getting on but bar the centres there is replacements for the others and a cohort of established internationals still around. Have been giving MOC the benefit of the doubt and on the day i think it would have required a Claremont semi-final type performance at full strength to win. Unfortunately we were way off that level. I’m not sure what way MOC wants them playing but when i get a glimpse of what i think he is aspiring to i don’t like it. I think we got a Leicster coach as opposed to an Aussie coach.

  6. Just seen the team for tomorrow’s match against the Ospreys. Madigan is not even on the effin bench. What gives? Is MO’C hellbent on ruining the confidence and career of the player who perhaps did most to help us win the Rabo last season? I don’t understand the reasoning at all. I think Curate’s Egg is right: If I were Madigan I’d be thinking of packing my bags and going to club, where I’d be at least sure of getting my game.

    • ‘Tis a strange selection alright. D’arcy at 13 I notice. Not sure what’s happening with Madigan, hard to see why he wouldn’t at least be included on the bench for what is traditionally a game we find hard to win.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  April 10, 2014

      Maybe Mads would be better off heading West where there’s a gap for a 10 next season, he’d be first choice, and he’ll be honing a partnership with Ireland’s next 9, Kieran Marmion.

      • Steady on Mary, the D4s will be wanting Henshaw in return!

        • curates_egg

           /  April 11, 2014

          If I were Madigan I would be looking to leave. O’Connor has set back his career for certain this season. If I were the IRFU, I would be looking to get him away from O’Connor. Clearly Leinster badly need him though – in spite of what O’Connor thinks. So, yeah, we’ll just take Henshaw if that’s ok.

          • If I had to choose, which one of them I’d prefer to leave the club at the end of this season, it’d be O’Connor. Madigan is Leinster to the bone, while MO’C is a blow-in, who is refusing to buy into the club ethos. If you look at recent selections – IRL and LEI -, the lack of team self-belief in the match against Toulon and subsequent statements by O’Connor, I suspect he’s involved in a massive dispute with Joe Schmidt behind the scenes. Hopefull the new national director of rugby Nucifora, who’s an Aussie but knows JS, will be able to sort the thing out.

  7. Bobby T

     /  April 10, 2014

    Pretty fair article I think. Some of the above comments are way over the top on MOC though. Come on can someone please assess the situation rationally. Leinster are top of the league (OK the Rabo isnt always that competitive but he has had to negotiate the last 3 months practically without his entire staring line-up) and they have lost twice in Europe. Once to a (despite the 40 point drubbing) a very good Northampton side and then to the European champions and by far the strongest team in Europe. Leinster should indeed be contending these matches and the manor of the defeat was really disappointing but the are not and have never been the All Blacks.
    People are saying that it is no conicidence that JS has created a structured team with Ireland and MOC’s leinster look less so. Well that was always going to happen and is specifically why he picked every Leinster player on the planet for his squad….IT GAVE HIM CONTINUITY. MOC has had 9 months or so with a squad that for half that time has been in Ireland camp….how can he develop continuity with that. He is not there to take notes from the players about last seasons structures. He is there to assess the opposition and play them the most effective way possible. He’s trying to do that with players he has probably seen less of than JS this season, the best of whom is now past it, the next best is injured and the two best from previous seasons just left the country.
    He has been dealt a sh*t hand and Leinster fans need to reign in their expectations just a tad.
    His comments to me smakced much more of frustration with the IRFU than with Madigan or any other Irish players. He wants NIQs because he knows they will be in the squad for the entire season and not yo-yo disappearing on him constantly!

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 10, 2014

      How can he develop continuity with “half his players in the Ireland squad”. He could start by not throwing out everything that makes Leinster Leinster, imposing a horrible form of rugby on the team, that is completely anathema to what they have been doing for the best part of the last decade, moving the point of attack with quick passing and clever running.

      • Bobby T

         /  April 10, 2014

        But they didn’t play the all out attacking rugby that you are talking about. They pulled off a few training park moves now and then that looked unbelieveable but that was the 5% not the 95%. I mean Joe Schmidt wants his wingers in the rucks more often than with the ball in hand. Being the self-professed ‘best passing team in Europe’ takes a lot (and I mean a lot) of practice and hours together in training…….which he fundamentally hasn’t had with this group of players.He cant rely on just saying before matches ‘just do what Joe told ye’… Leinsters best bet to beat Toulon would have been to take them on up front, which they clearly showed they could have done in the scrums and line-outs because they were never going to win an attacking contest…..Toulon simply have better rugby players than nearly anyone in Europe.

        • Leinsterlion

           /  April 10, 2014

          Our Amlin and pro 12 run in on hard ground was Leinster playing exactly what I’d call Leinster rugby.
          You cant take Toulon on up front, our crappy forward oriented pick and drive kicking game displayed that.
          Even without the “hours and hours of training” picking Gopperth signaled MOC’s intent, Gopperth cant play high tempo passing rugby, MOC never had any intention of testing Toulon outside of a Jack Charlton “put em under pressure” gameplan.

          • Bobby T

             /  April 11, 2014

            If you are going to quote me back to myself you may as well actually copy in what I wrote. Toulon can definitely be gotten at ni the pack (its the only place Leinster could have gotten to them as their back-line is mile better), I reckon that is exactly what Munster will target and I’m feeling good about what it might achieve – that remains to be seen though. Gopperth was signed during Schmidts time and he ha been largely very good for Leinster. I’m not going to be able to sway your mind about Madigan but MOC simply doesnt rate him enough to start him and that is a man who watches him train day in day out. He’s a class talent but he is yet to display to me a commanding 80 minutes except maybe v Wasps? in the Amlin last year. Leinster simply dont have the team capable of playing throw it around rugby and Madigan cant do it on his own.

  8. Andrew

     /  April 10, 2014

    It is not really in Leinsters DNA to play a kick and chase game. At best that is 50/50 on keeping the ball. Depressing game plan.

  9. contraflow

     /  April 10, 2014

    Sadly I posted here pre-Xmas about the possibility of MOC becoming our Tony McGahan i.e. he would foist an unsuitable game plan on the team, that is alien to the players’ skillset and fans culture, all mixed in with some dubious team selections, precipitating a fall from grace for the team. At the time I said this was just an unproven theory, it was too early to tell if this would come to pass given he needed time to put his stamp on things. Also he is supposedly a running coach, though I have seen no evidence of this as yet. Furthermore, he was focusing on defence… wow, that really paid off.

    I am now resigned to the fact that MOC is our Tony McGahan. This makes me sad as a Leinster fan. I think I have given him a reasonable amount of time to show us what he has got, this hasn’t been a knee jerk reaction.

    My new unproven theory is will MOC go beyond Tony McGahan status and reach for Graeme Souness levels of management by taking a European super power and running them into the ground? Only time will tell. One of my friends has started referring to MOC as Graeme tho.

    • Mary Hinge

       /  April 10, 2014

      C’mon Contraflow – Newcastle were never a European super power!

    • Sound Steve

       /  April 10, 2014

      His two centres have a combined age of 70 and he has Dave Kearney on the wing – do you really expect running rugby?

      • Leinsterlion

         /  April 10, 2014

        Running rugby doesnt mean you need Rocokoko and Howlett on the wings(though it helps immensely) it just means you attack wider then the thirteen on occasion whilst playing on the gainline, mix it up with running angles and quick passing, you dont need to be lightning quick to do this as Drico has shown and as Conrad Smith has shown, Mike Catt has shown in the past. Its all about where your ten stand and the running threat he poses to keep the opposition honest and momentarily on the back foot. Leinster did none of that, lined up deep and kick chased and promptly lost, how having “geriatric centers” running 20-30 meters chasing and tackling is a better strategy then running 10 offloading or passing is beyone me.

        • Sound Steve

           /  April 10, 2014

          Yes, but its not as easy as that. If you get slow ball then the defence is stacked and you’re going nowhere, especially against a Toulon where guys won’t fall off tackles inexplicably. There is no threat in that Leinster backline anymore, especially without Fitzgerald; Kearney may run a good hard line, McFadden may engineer a break but that’s it and there’s nothing Joe Schmidt (or anyone) can do about that.

          To win those tight away games you need low error rugby, i.e. tight defence, solid set-piece and a varied game. Wide, wide, wide won’t cut it. Might not look pretty but that’s the way it is.

          • osheaf01

             /  April 11, 2014

            Agree completely. If your ruck ball is slow it doesn’t matter where the 10 stands. Munster shredded Toulouse because the ruck ball was lightning quick. It also helps when the pack suck in the opposition backrow, as when they were mauling them to death.

            I do agree with LeinsterLion that Gopperth is a problem – too Radge like, in a way – for the Leinster style to work. The problem is that Madigan is also imperfect – too raw, too predictable (always runs it) – and thus Sexton has been a massive loss for Leinster.

  10. Sound Steve

     /  April 10, 2014

    Could it be that Leinster just aren’t that good a team? It’s fully two years (vs Clermont) since they beat a top rate team. The Northampton performance was superb but given what happened the following week I look at it as something of an anomaly. To defend MOC, I’m completely with him on Madigan, he doesn’t have the ability to control a game, definitely not like Sexton did. What’s wrong with calling him out on it? If Schmidt did it, as he sometimes did with other players, people would be calling the best piece of man management since Sir Alex. I’m not defending the performance on Sunday but MOC can’t legislate for Darcy and BOD missing something like 9 tackles between them.

    As for the criticism of the back play it’s pretty clear we just don’t have the players to rip teams apart any more. This was pretty evident in the Six Nations. What’s a new coach going to do? Also, on the coaching front, I’m loath to criticise Jono Gibbes after the brilliant work he’s done over the last few years but that’s the second time Leinster have been completely outmuscled up front. Plumtree was able to make a very similar looking pack look very impressive through the Six Nations so could it be that Jono has one eye on his next job at Clermont?

  11. D6W

     /  April 10, 2014

    I read what you wrote as Kirchner being of the same quality (or uselessness) as Lote etc, which I disagree with. If I misunderstood, apologies. I agree with you that it was silly to sign a NIQ in his position. Pre-season, I would have said we should use our NIQ budget for a 2nd row or tighthead, but considering how Toner and our front row players have stepped up, not sure now.

    • D6W

       /  April 10, 2014

      @LeinsterLion

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 10, 2014

      No need for apologies, I could have been clearer, I didnt mean he was “as bad” as the players I lumped him in with. Just he has performed as expected(in that he has never set the world alight in SA) in a position we have no need of, a dud signing really.

  12. Len

     /  April 10, 2014

    The last game I remember annoying me as much as Sunday was the 2012 pro 12 final. On that occasion it was down to bad reffing robbing us of the win. On Sunday it was down to the manner of the beating we took and how slow our coach was to make changes. We all know from the DK era that a reluctance to make changes when things aren’t work only leaves one possible out come. I don’t think the age of the squad is that much of a factor. Lack of perpetration and an out half who was out of his depth and hadn’t played really in four weeks meant we we’re beat from the off and all that was to be decided was by how much. JG is a good squad player but limited. He’s basically played the vast majority of the ten rugby this year while mad dog has sat on the bench or come on as a bit player or out of position. Jimmy did really well against Ospreys on a very wet night in the HC kicking to the back three and forcing them to run at us, perfect for the conditions. A week later in a dry RDS he did the exact same thing against a castre team that were only too happy to run at us. He had no plan b, it was almost like he was only programmed to do one thing. He also tends to run to laterally which means those outside him have very little room to work with. I’m not a fan of sextons constant loop but at least he leaves room for other. The only time our backs have looked dangerous this year is with Mads at ten (Cardiff at home saints away). Frankly if mads doesn’t go looking to exit his contract and move then I’d worry he lacks ambition. NIQ wise we really need one good centre. I’d be trying to fast track luke McGrath at scrum half, saw him play a few matches last year and his passing is lightening quick. I’d agree that I wouldn’t trust MOC with the cheque book though. If we win the Rabo the complaining from fans might ease off, but personally the last time I felt our coach was this wrong for the team he left but not before costing us some players. I’d worry history might be repeating itself.

  13. Can anyone direct me to an article or video where MOC made those comments about NIQ’s and Madigan? Very interested to hear. I’m not in Ireland anymore, so I don’t pick up all the radio or tv programmes, and sometimes miss stuff like this.

    Being honest, I don’t think that MOC is doing anything for Leinster. Still, a large part of the loss has to be put down to lack of precision – there were too many unforced errors, knock ons and missed tackles. Things like that add up against a side like Toulon.

  14. Rmkf

     /  April 12, 2014

    I was at the game and I agree the strategy was non-existent, also I’m not sure how we could expect Matt O’Connor to do well at Leinster anyway, I mean, surely they could have got a much more experienced coach having been so recently successful?

    I do think the issue of our Irish players being physically smaller than their opponents reared its head a bit, it’s very clear that Ireland are working around this with gameplans but MOC is not good enough to do so.

    The scramble defence is the only plus, it probably saved them from getting a complete walloping.

    As for attack, it was no surprise the maul was the only source of a try.

    I mean, I think Leinster would definitely benefit from an import or too because in SOB’s absence they miss a star as well as his ridiculous contributions. Looking at Sunday’s team you find it hard to see where a spark would come from.

  15. Paddy o

     /  April 12, 2014

    Think you are going a bit over the top when you talk about forget beating them at home whiff. No doubt they are exceptional there, no doubt they have created an impressive culture and identity for themselves. Obviously it is going to take something exceptional, but they ain’t unbeatable, and certainly not for a team like Leinster . Surely the point of Murray kinsella’s article, which I must admit is an excellent analysis, is that we’ll never know – Leinster never asked ’em any real questions.

    The performance was similar to Northampton at home. I can remember incidents in that game where Leinster kicked from good turnover ball. One sticks in my mind – they kicked, managed to regather, then kicked again against a disorganized defensive line. Would a Northampton away performance have been good enough? Maybe that is comparing apples, oranges and chickens but this much I am confident about – kicking to Drew Mitchell is a bad idea. The man has plenty of full back experience, I think I heard from super rugby commentary that he played Aussie rules as a child, I know for sure he has no qualms catching overhead from garryowens. It’s a veritable invitation for Toulon into your half by kicking to him. Even if that is to be your tactic for this game, on the other wing is david smith. I don’t know his career so well, but i don’t think he fits any of that criteria. Go figure.

    The loss wasn’t particularly a selection issue, but there definitely seems to be case of madigan’s face not fitting. Schmidt does not appear to have the same issue with him. It would be remiss of Madigan not to be looking at alternatives. It is hard to see him anywhere else in ireland but, watching foley play for the waratahs against the force this morning, a move to Sydney would arguably suit both parties. Maybe his face wouldn’t particularly fit with Cheika either, or perhaps they’ll move Beale inside anyway, but (depending on what discussions he and Schmidt are having) playing your rugby in Sydney with Beale, cooper, folau could be fun if you are a talented 25 year old, feeling a bit unappreciated. As an aside, Leinster should be trying to sign the honey badger! They don’t need another winger at all, but that would most definitely be fun – what a great character!

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