Not the Leinster We’ve Come to Know

Posted: May 8, 2015 in European Rugby, Rabo
Tags: , ,

A lot has been written in the papers lately about Leinster’s end of season campaign to finish on a high. It seems that players are all singing off the same hymn sheet, that a strong end to the season will put them in a good place for next year. In one way it’s true; it’s the final few games of the season that will be remembered. But what will impact on them more are their failures.

Leinster have become the best Irish provincial side in the last six years. Granted, they have lost games to other provinces during that run, but they’ve won more competitions, and that’s what counts. In the last few years, Leinster have based their success on silverware, much like Munster have in the years previous.

Leinster now need to finish in the top six of the Rabo to secure a place in next year’s Champions Cup. Odds are they’ll do it (they face Benetton Treviso tonight), and will no doubt be one of the favourites to win in 2016, as they were in previous years. In terms of getting into next year’s competition, it will be a case of mission complete. But that alone is a poor return for their season. Jordi Murphy has stated in today’s Irish Independant that “the focus of finishing in the top six is keeping us all on our toes”. This is not the sort of team Leinster have fought to become. This is not the mentality they worked so hard to shape. A top six finish should be guaranteed regardless.

Winning the last game of the season will not be enough for these players. When you think of the quality of the Leinster team along with the highs they’ve experienced in the past, it’s not hard to see why. Let’s look at two Heineken cup finals in particular.

Down and out at half time against a strong Northampton Saints side, Leinster managed one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament’s history. Many other teams would have played that second half trying to salvage some pride-Leinster played it to win, and did. Fast forward a few years later to their final against Ulster. From their form, many were tipping Ulster to finally reclaim the Heineken cup for the second time. They were playing well and had been all season. That day in Twickenham, they were absolutely dominated from start to finish, and the final score reflected it. These are the games these Leinster players are used to. Not qualifying-deciders against Treviso.

You would also have to wonder what will happen with Matt O’Connor. His style of play has not worked well, nor has he been a crowd favourite, even though he won a Rabo title last year and nearly coached the team to victory over Toulon. You would have to feel sorry for him. Rob Penney suffered the same fate when he stepped up to coach Munster; his brand of rugby was not what the Thomond Park faithful were used to seeing, and he was heavily criticised for his first season.

But O’Connor has been an unpopular choice for too long, and beating Treviso to qualify for Europe next year probably won’t be enough to save him. He didn’t have Sexton or the ever-mentioned O’Driscoll like his predecessor, but nor did a lot of teams this year, and five are probably going to finish ahead of them. With the return of Sexton and Nacewa next year, Leinster will enjoy having more fire-power in their back line, even if it means the likes of Dave Kearney or Luke Fitzgerald’s game time suffers. But will O’Connor be the man to call the shots?

A win over Treviso tonight and finishing in the top six could be deemed a salvaged season by some. But rugby is now more professional than ever, and seasons are now based on trophies and medals. In those terms, Leinster have failed, regardless of what hymn sheet players are singing off.

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