Leinster’s Rubbish Season

In recent years it’s been customary to berate Munster for showing a somewhat half-hearted approach to the Pro12, almost turning up their nose at the second most important piece of silverware on offer. So it seems only fair that the heat should be turned up on Leinster for what has been a terrible Pro12 campaign. Leinster have been the most consistent side in the league over a number of seasons, finishing in the top 3 for the last decade and in recent years routinely getting to the final (and often losing it, but no matter). It was always a badge of honour among their fanbase that their team sees the pot as more than a ‘tin cup’ consolation prize.

Winning the league in 2007 on the back of a number of hard-fought away wins against the likes of Cardiff (a half-decent side back then) and Munster (also pretty decent back then) gave them the platform to contest the Heineken Cup the following year. The league matters to Leinster, so it matters when they perform dreadfully in it.  It also has significant repurcussions, and will see them in the pot of third seeds in next year’s European Cup draw, increasing the likelihood of a nasty pool featuring the likes of Toulon or Clermont and Saracens.

This year’s slump to fifth counts as their worst league performance in some time. Allowing the Dragons to do the double over you is a standard that no Leinster team should fall beneath, but they have limboed under the bar with ease.  Had they won those two games they’d be in the hunt for the semi-finals.

In many senses, this has been a season where the chickens have come home to roost. There was much trumped-up talk about ‘winning ugly’ early in the season, but we were quick to call the players and coaching staff out on that. ‘Winning ugly’ tends to be a euphemism for playing rubbish rugby and squeezing out wins against low-quality opponents. There’s nothing aspirational about winning ugly, but the Leinster coaching staff seemed a little too proud of it. But bad habits die hard, and sure enough as the ugly rugby has continued, the results have begun to slide.

The Mole’s outstanding analysis leaves little room for us to add anything of value, but of all the frustrations, the biggest for this fan is Leinster’s intra-match inconsistency. They do not seem capable of performing for 60, let alone 80 minutes, and they appear to sleepwalk through a 20 or 30, or 40 minutes spell in every match. It is also difficult to identify a single facet of play that this Leinster side excels at. It’s one thing setting your stall up to play a narrow gameplan, but it’s entirely another to execute even that so cackhandedly. As for Leinster’s set pieces, they’ve been fair-to-poor all year. The massive difference between December/January Mike Ross at Leinster and February/March Mike Ross for Ireland is so stark as to be embarrassing. It’s almost reaching Welsh levels where the likes of Warbs and, previously, Dr Roberts dial it in for Cardiff and turn into world-beaters in red.

[Aside: this “Welsh exceptionalism” was used to excuse Deccie’s Ireland team their poor performances and results, but was nonsense then and is nonsense now. Cardiff were a mess, Wales were not, Ireland were a mess then, and Leinster now are a mess as well]

Leinster’s sole saving grace is that they have somehow made it to the last four in Europe. They are blessed to have done so. Harlequins should have beaten them when they had their foot on Leinster’s throat in Dublin – that’s the same Harlequins who are in the bottom half of the Premiership, and were missing Nick Evans on the night. Leinster surrendered a 14-point advantage against Wasps, and most recently beat Bath only by a result of Bath’s own indiscipline. Had Quins or Bath greater inner belief, and more experience at the pointy end of European rugby, Leinster would be out. They have Ian Madigan’s boot and Jamie Heaslip’s sheer bloody-mindedness to thank for still being here.

So now, the season hinges entirely on a single game against Toulon, and it is one which we do not give them a hope in hell of winning. If the match was played out 10 times, Toulon would win all 10. It will leave their season looking a lot like Munster’s final year under the McGahan regime, where they fortuitously navigated their way through a benign Heineken Cup pool, but played badly for most of the season, and once they exited Europe in the knockout stages (in their case, the quarter final at home to Ulster) were left to reflect on a campaign where practically nothing has been achieved, and were finally whacked and bagged by the Ospreys in a harrowing 40-burger defeat.

That Munster team had the advantage of having a core of forwards and young backs to build a side around – the likes of Sherry, Kilcoyne, O’Mahony, O’Donnell, Murray, Earls and Zebo were going to be around for the long haul; and they had Paul O’Connell in the middle of it all. That turned out to be the nadir, and the appointment of Rob Penney and a coherent coaching ticket allowed them to get back somewhere close to respectability. Of course, Penney was shafted in a questionable strategic move and Teflon Axel has taken over – but they are nowhere near where they were three years ago.

With Leinster re-signing a 33 year old Isa Nacewa, who hasn’t played a game in anger in two years, as one of their precious NIQs, one has to wonder about strategic direction. He’s either the best they can get, or the height of their ambition for the backline. Neither sounds particularly inspiring. Leinster still have a talented, relatively young and deep squad of forwards, but the backline depth chart is shallow and low on quality. Jonny Sexton is coming back, but they have two old scrum-halves, a cobbled together centre partnership, and a depth chart in the back three that has necessitated reliance on AIL players like Fanj and Hipster’s Choice Mick McGrath for months at a time. The leadership of Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen is sorely missed.

It feels like someone needs to get a grip and break the team out of a comfort zone. The players themselves seem to love Matt O’Connor, which is nice, and want to do something for him, but it’s pretty clear something isn’t working, and it’s worth remembering how little they loved Cheika, who could be cantankerous, but got results.  The hunt for Matt O’Connor’s successor starts on Monday morning.

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55 Comments

  1. Joe

     /  April 16, 2015

    What grates here is that Toulon do not look the force of the last year or two (Wasps had them on the rack a little in that second half) and therefore if Leinster were not playing such garbage, we would have a chance.

  2. Das Waderwurst

     /  April 16, 2015

    Denis Hickie was spouting nonsense on Off the Ball last week that Leinster had a 50-50 chance of winning this game. I know as a former player he can’t completely write them off, but for the love of Jeebus, get wise Denny. We have no more than a puncher’s chance, one in in 10 at a serious push.

    • kevin

       /  April 16, 2015

      Shane Jennings on a few weeks ago saying Sexton had a good game vs Wales, and Shane Horgan (who in his defence is my favourite pundit) on a few months ago saying Darcy should start for Ireland. The Cork Con mafia have a set of challengers!!

  3. Rava

     /  April 16, 2015

    The most significant point is in the second last paragraph; “The leadership of Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen is sorely missed” and is non existent when Heaslip isn’t playing.

  4. connachtexile

     /  April 16, 2015

    What kills me about MOC is that he has serious talent but p*sses it away. Cathal Marsh the Leinster 3rd choice out-half has played zero minutes of senior gametime in 2 years. He has an outside centre in the academy called Kelleher who is scoring trys for fun but hasn’t made the bench yet for them. There’s another guy called Ringrose who is meant to be exceptional too but instead of giving these potential internationals a chance he’s instead opted for AIL journeymen who are Pro12 level at best.
    The coaching staff also have to take some criticism. Quinn Roux and John Cooney who are playing for Connacht both look the read deal now while they were both substandard playing at Leinster. It’s a fair indication when neither of the two wanted to go back east after getting a taste of a proper coaching set-up.

  5. Yossarian

     /  April 16, 2015

    The age profile of the Leinster squad is still pretty good. 5/6 front rows(with furlong coming in next) Toner,SOB,Ruddock,Murphy all under 28 with Heaslip the elder statesman at 31 hardly a right off.
    The Half backs have been the key problem all year.reddan and Boss were always prone to brain farts and that had been somewhat eradicated under Schmidt where there was very clear instruction on what to do. under the MOC “play what you see/or nothing at all if you fancy” they have been left with too much decision making to do and despite their years they still choose and execute poorly. two block downs in as many weeks from reddan potentially cost leinster a minimum 5 points.(not going to start on the much maligned 10 who is on the move)
    Don’t buy the leadership thing really either. There is enough leadership there to cope with Dragons/Zebre away.
    Anyone who has watched a leinster game live can see the dreadful re-alignment and general movement of the players.it is shocking. missed tackles and poor passing might be an individual thing but those failings are down to the coach.
    I thought MOC was poor last year but a pro 12 title meant he was going nowhere. This year he will have no such defence.

    • “play what you see/or nothing at all if you fancy”

      I think this is the best summation of the MOC gameplan I have read all year.

      • On the leadership thing it seems Cullen has largely gotten away with a poor season as forwards coach. There’s been a marked decline in Leinster’s work at the breakdown but there’s a cohort that blames every issue, including traffic jams on the way to the RDS probably, on MOC. Plus Cullen has been shielded by his Leinster Legend (TM) status

        • Getting close to Thornley and co’s “spoiled Leinster fans” territory here.

          People have a right to be annoyed and to blame Matt O’Connor. Why would they hang Cullen out to dry when so many other things have gone wrong in this team?

          I’m tired of reading the backlash to the backlash, about MOC – this team is playing way below its level. They’re lucky they live such a charmed existence that they can be this utterly shit and still waltz into Europe next season. Everyone who said MOC was shit was right.

          MOC is lucky that there’s a wiggle room the size of the Irish sea between a successful season and an average or poor one – unfortunately for him the performances have been so thunderingly shit that people have to sit up and take notice – culminating in last week’s ludicrous choke – I’d say the traffic is getting lighter and lighter on the way to the RDS.

          Plus actually if you look at the stats Leinster’s rucking is p impressive.

          • You’re being slightly defensive here. I never said Cullen should be hung out to dry I just think he’s largely escaped any flack for the lacklustre season. I also never said people don’t have a right to be annoyed, I absolutely think they do and MOC has serious questions to answer. On the flip side I don’t agree with the “where can I hand my season ticket back” crowd either.

          • Fair enough. I just reckon it’d be hard to give him flack with any confidence – it’s a fair point that the jury may be out on him, but he’s in the shadow of MOC for good reason.

        • There is a bit of a tendency to blame MOC exclusively for everything that goes wrong and heap praise on the players alone when things go right. Shane Horgan made a good point recently (on Second Captains I think) that there seems to be a feeling that everything will be sorted out when Sexton returns. He’ll obviously make a big impact both with his skills and attitude, I can’t see Captain Cranky standing for some of the switched off performances Leinster have put in this season. There are problems that need to be looked at beyond that & replacing MOC but it ain’t a bad place to start!

        • Very possibly. It’s always hard to apportion blame among the coaching staff when you’re not close to it, but on the face of things, Johnno Gibbes has left a big void. None of the technical aspects of Leinster’s forward play have been particularly good this season. It’s Leo’s first season as a coach proper, so we’ll hold judgement for the minute, but there’s an awful lot to improve on.

        • curates_egg

           /  April 16, 2015

          Actually, the breakdown is ok. Check out Andy McGeady’s article yesterday.
          http://www.irishtimes.com/sport/rugby/european-cup/leinster-are-almost-ireland-in-disguise-except-for-sexton-murray-and-victories-1.2175975 – what we do with the ball after the rucks is a major problem but that is not down to Leo.

          The precipitous drop in our maul and our poor lineout both coincided with Leo taking the reins though. He certainly cops a lot of criticism on the Leinster Fans board too, so don’t agree he is getting off lightly.

          • I shouldn’t have specified the breakdown but I do think there’s been an obvious fall off in Leinster’s forwards play. It’s clear Jono is a big loss. And to be fair, you’re obviously going to get a different take on a board of dedicated fans than from the general public and mass media so I don’t really think it’s the same thing.

  6. Guy Easterby up at a Pro 12 promo thingy in Belfast yesterday was moaning about the IRFU player management scheme. It would appear that the message – e.g. Leinster having to send back part of their ticket allocation for the Toulon match in Marseille unsold – hasn’t quite gotten through yet. Mick Dawson has to act a.s.a.p. My dream ticket would be Bernard Jackman coach, with Girve the Swerve in charge of the backs and Isa as skills coach. I’m tired of seeing Cronin and Strauss throwing line out balls crooked. I would have thought Richie Murphy would have sorted that out after the Clermont semi-final in Bordeaux – and that was three years ago!!!

    • p.s. Jimmy Gopperth saying how it’s all got to be out defence on Sunday has excorcised me of the last little glimmer hope I had left. Saint Jude is the only one who can help us now!!!

    • ORiordan

       /  April 16, 2015

      Only having 2 weeks between quarters and semis may have been a factor in numbers travelling. Having an extra week or so notice can make a difference in being able to re-arrange work commitments.

      • Plus we can’t ignore that it’s in the suckiest part of the weekend – late Sunday afternoon? Really? When there are only two of the bloody things (semi-final matches, that is), is that the best TV land can do?

    • Red Wolf

       /  April 16, 2015

      Would it not be in Leo’s remit to sort that out as forwards coach? Despite being down as skills coach Richie was an outhalf, so probably doesn’t have the knowledge for a specialist front row position.
      On a side note, I have heard it mentioned that Sean’s throwing issue relates to the way his shoulders developed and grew, and that has reduced his range of motion. Could be total cobblers but I would be interested to know if anybody heard the same or thoughts/madcap theories on it.

      • You might be on to something, Red Wolf. If my memory serves me correctly, his throws seem to have a tendency to go off to the left. Maybe all he needs to do is not stand at exactly 90 degrees to the lineout by perhaps bringing his right foot back a couple of inches.

    • Yossarian

       /  April 16, 2015

      Dempsey has been poor enough with the B&I cup squad. Questionable picks with some of the academy places as well.
      Hard to forget what Jackman did with Clontarf-Team misses out on AIL due to bizarre “not scoring first try” under Andy Wood, Relegated following year under Jackman!!!

  7. The one-eyed Ulsterman in me welcomes this new (albeit probably short-lived) era of a world where Ulster teams aren’t terrorised by the tyranny of Leinster in the knock-out stages. On the other hand it does seem a shame when a team like Leinster has a decline so stark. League Leaders and title holders one season, not even making the playoffs the next.

  8. Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

     /  April 16, 2015

    Short and sweet if Munster and Ulster had Leinster’s group this year they’d be in the semis too just like the previous two years with Munster making semi. If Leinster had the same draws they’d have got to a semi also.

    Munster put in two heroic semi final performances which covered over the cracks and completely changed the fans perspective of the season. I’d imagine the same will not happen at Leinster this season as the fans seem to want MOC out regardless.

    • I think that is simplistic – Penney had the team moving forward and managed a transition in personnel/gameplan very effectively. It was pretty clear he was doing a good job – Munster were much improved from the shambolic outfit McGahan left behind. Discipline was better, gameplan was coherent, depth was better, and results were better.

      None of the above is true for Leinster under MOC – and this is why he has lost a large portion of the fans. Its not Wardy-esque over-cosseted spoiled fans that are the problem here.

      • Ireland's Answer (allthingsrugby1)

         /  April 16, 2015

        but both took very different jobs MOC impossible to improve while it was fairly easy for penney. Took him long enough mind.

        • That’s a fair thing to point out. But two seasons, incorporating transition, seems short if anything for Penney!

  9. There’s no doubt that Leinster are worse this year: 14-4-8 so far this season vs. 24-1-6 and a trophy for the whole of last season.

    But while I’m no fan of MOC, the major coaching change this year is the replacement of Jono Gibbes with Cullen & Caputo (great name for a Fallon & Byrne competitor, not so sure about the rugby side of things).

    Is there a possibility Cullen’s ligind-ary, sorry, LEDGE-endory status as a player is protecting him from criticism and that MOC is therefore attracting more than his fair share of sledging?

    • D6W

       /  April 16, 2015

      That is a fair point. Leinsters scrums and lineouts, solely the remit of the forward coach, have been awful. And Leo has escaped any kind of criticism by the media. If the team were functioning otherwise, maybe more of a spotlight would be on Leo.

    • curates_egg

       /  April 16, 2015

      Leo gets plenty of criticism from fans – just check the fan site.

  10. kevin

     /  April 16, 2015

    The ‘ Yeah but we’re in a QF, anything can happen. Yeah but we’re in a SF, anything can happen’ defence reminds me exactly of when anyone who criticised Trappatoni was shot down with ‘shut up, aren’t we in a European championship’ bullshit that was peddled, when if you’d even taken half a step back you could see the only teams we had beaten were Armenia, Andorra, Macedonia and Estonia…Leinster were blessed with an Amlin Cup group this year and even then have just squeaked by. Finally the deluded apologists (whether they be fans, neutrals, journalists or ex players) that have been defending Leinster and MOC all year will get a nice kick up the arse this weekend. Going by any form book you’d have to say Toulon will cruise this, but thankfully they usually only turn it on in spurts. I have nothing against Leinster but I actually think a hammering could do them a lot of good in the medium term. Munster have been in the exact same position 1 and 2 years ago, able to delude themselves that they were a top class side by scraping to semi’s by virtue of a piss easy draw, this year showed a better picture of where they are. (and I actually think they’ll be better off next season after being unceremoniously dumped out in this years group stage).

    One thing that interests me is if the dressing room is actually content? Even taking into account fatigue, Ireland’s backrow was blown away by Bath in the QF..Stuff like that, the lack of leadership and the pathetic attempts at tackling make me think all is not well…

    • kevin

       /  April 16, 2015

      Sorry, that should be ”Yeah but *THEY’RE* in a QF, anything can happen. Yeah but *THEY’RE* in a SF, anything can happen’ . The ” we’re ” makes it sound like I’m only criticising Leinster supporters, never my intention

    • D6W

       /  April 16, 2015

      Regarding that last question, and WoC referencing reports of the players loving MOC (don’t players always swear loyalty to current coach), I do have to wonder. Watching Leinster live, their movement off the ball, which is not always caught on TV, looks lazy and disinterested. According to IT, Leinster missed 80 tackles in last 3 games. I would guess much of that is due to not working hard to get into correct defensive positions when needing to.

      They are playing like a team that can’t wait for matches, and the season, to end. Whatever is being said about the happiness of the camp, the evidence on the pitch does not back it up.

  11. andrew097

     /  April 16, 2015

    Leinster have been on a slope downhill for quite a time. The coach should write three letters, number them one to three put them in and envelope a leave them in his desk. Addressed to the next coach. Dear new Leinster coach when results are bad open the first letter.
    The new coach has a bad run he opens letter number one. ” blame the opposition, refs and fans they have to learn to win ugly” it works the soft media repeat.
    The results get a little worse he opens the second letter,” blame injuries and player availability” it buys some more time from the press.
    The performances grow worse as the results do, the coach opens the final letter in this letter it simply says ” write three letters”
    Some would think we are into several letters at this stage.

  12. crowlem1

     /  April 16, 2015

    What really grates with me is the defence of MOC by Thornley, amongst others, on the basis that Leinster are in the semi’s of the ERCC. Scrapping through the easiest group, and barely beating a Bath side there for the taking hardly constitutes an amazing achievement. As we saw in Joe Schmidt’s last season with Leinster, a favourable draw can be as big a factor in how far teams progress as much as talent/coaching.

  13. osheaf01

     /  April 16, 2015

    “The hunt for Matt O’Connor’s successor starts on Monday morning.”

    Surely no-one can look beyond the dream ticket of Declan Kidney and LeinsterLion?

    • Ha!

      Deccie: First order of business, let’s sign Peter O’Mahony
      LL: *splutters* I’m resigning!

    • I’m going to play the part of the Indo now and say how dare you ignore the claims of one of the best and most successful coaches in the history of Irish rugby, Eddie O’Sullivan! Don’t you know that East Galway is only 90 minutes from Dublin on the new motorway?

    • Leinsterlion

       /  April 16, 2015

      LOL, a bit late for that, I would have built the team around Madigan for the past two years and spent the Sexton money on a quality 9 and center/wing in the Rene Ranger caliber. I would enjoy having Kidney around making tea and collecting cones at training, give him a foot on the rungs so to speak.

      • osheaf01

         /  April 17, 2015

        LOL. Love the idea of Deccie making the tea.
        And signing Peter O’Mahony? 😉

  14. Billy

     /  April 16, 2015

    Why is no one talking about the players?!

    Most fans seem to be completely unable to see past MOC for Leinster’s poor season when the players simply haven’t delivered. It’s such a fanboy mentality to blame everything on the coach and completely borrows from football.

    • “Blame the players” is a really bad cliche in sport – if it’s the players fault why do we even have managers?

      We’re thankfully very aware of the value of an excellent coach in this country right now – even if that serves to highlight the damage a bad coach can do.

      • Billy

         /  April 16, 2015

        You’re even using football parlance ffs – MOC is not a manager, neither is Schmidt… Why do I bother

        • Why don’t you bother to argue your point? Football fans make the exact same argument you’re making.

    • The players are the same ones that provided the majority of Ireland’s Six Nations-winning panel. Rugby has become a highly structured, systems-based game, as has been discussed at length in this blog and elsewhere. Coaches count for an awful lot these days in how they get the players to effectively implement their systems on the pitch.

      Many players have had middling seasons in the blue jersey of Leinster, and none are excused from cold, hard assessment, but the coach’s input counts for a lot.

  15. Leinsterlion

     /  April 16, 2015

    Whatever about the players not being good enough and opinions on selection, our “tactics” or lack thereof, have been a problem since MOC took over. Our defensive system has gone to pot. We have no recognisable pattern in attack, our ten sits too deep and kicks in the wrong areas. That is all on MOC, he hasn’t made steps to rectify them, if our players just aren’t up to it, but the systems are there to see(as they are with all good coaches), MOC would not be getting as much flak imo.

    • Not wishing to defend MOC but it’s only fair to point our Leinster’s defensive system actually went to pot during Saint Joe’s last season, when Leinster shipped 46 tries in 22 league matches, as compared to less than 30 in each of the first two seasons Schmidt was in charge. Last year tries conceded went back down to 30, which was quite the turnaround.
      Admittedly however with 35 tries conceded this time out and 3 games left it looks like things are going to seed defensively again as well.

  16. curates_egg

     /  April 16, 2015

    I’m the most pessimistic person I know but I think you guys are wrong on this: “If the match was played out 10 times, Toulon would win all 10”. That defies sporting logic, the beauty of which is that it defies standard logic. To tire out the cliché: it’s a one off cup game.

    Rugby fans in Ireland don’t have to try that hard to recall far more outside results. Munster are the epitome of that sporting cliche. How many better squads did they overturn in their heyday. The Irish national side is also synonymous with plucky one-off results. Even when they were being appallingly coached.

    As you point out above, this Leinster squad has 19 or 20 players who have won 6 nations medals over the past 13 months, 3 or 4 other internationals and Ben Te’o (who some people think is Jesus) and Gopperth (who some people think is Beelzebub). It is not that much of a stretch to believe that squad has at least one big game in it (despite shocking form and a poor coach).

    I would give them a 20-25% chance. Although I think MOC should go regardless. Ireland stuck with Kidney way too long due to one off performances.

    • Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

       /  April 16, 2015

      I agree that’s possible. This season I’ve watched Toulon lose to Leicester, beat Scarlets and Wasps at home and beat Ulster x2. At no time did the particularly impress. Until PJ and Olding went off injured in Toulon Ulster looked like the better team and already had two tries. To win Church, Jamie and the rest of the pack will have to give their opposite numbers a hiding they’ll never forget. Whether our second row is up to such a feat, I don’t know. For what it’s worth, my team would look like this: Healy, Cronin, Ross, Toner, McCarthy, Murphy, O’Brien, Heaslip, McGrath, Madigan, Kearney, D’Arcy, Fitzgerald, McFadden, Kearney – McGrath, Strauss, Moore, Marshall, Jennings, Reddan, T’eo, Kirchner. Na Laighiní abú!!!!!

  17. zdm

     /  April 17, 2015

    Who’s the shot caller in that back line?
    I’ve always argued that it doesn’t matter who calls the shots in the 9/10 axis as long as someone does – Pienaar/Jackson being the perfect example but Leinster don’t have that player. Boss and Reddan were recruited for a Give It To Johnny policy and then a Ship It to Brian stop-gap but now both are absent and not replaced, there is a serious lack of a Rugby Brain amongst the inside backs.

    • D6W

       /  April 17, 2015

      Excellent question. Previously I would have said Madigan perfect for that role, but after 2 years of been “coached” by MOC, I doubt he has the confidence now. If D’Arcy was still in form, maybe…

  18. Roundy

     /  April 17, 2015

    Your last paragraph sums it up really. The players have had a handy two seasons with a coach that does not push them too hard. After years of Cheika and Schmidt it was probably a relief to some extent for them but that policy is obviously not going to bring success. Are the players (most of whome are three time HC winners) content with what they have achieved and happy to see out their careers by just being mediocre? The wins we have got this season came from certain players bursting a gut to get the result, not from any game plan or training ground moves. Hopefully the search for a new coach is in full swing and the powers that be are not waiting until Monday. Lets remember we still have a squad of Internationals (mostly) and an Academy the envy of any club anywhere.

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