Friday, May 22, 2015

Four proud provinces - Part 2 - Matt finished

Next up in our mini-blog-series looking at the state of the four proud provinces is the one we tend to harp on the most, ie Leinster.  And we may not have any more rugby action this weekend but we have most certainly been in the news.

Nobody with an ounce of decency ever wants to see someone lose their job.  So if anyone suggests that there is dancing in the streets of Donnybrook right now at Matt O’Connor’s departure, they are either unaware of the facts or avoiding them.

Still, there was a significant amount of fans who wanted him gone even before this troubled season began so throughout the season I have felt like I was walking a tightrope as letting him go either before or during this season seemed pointless, while at the same time I wasn’t happy with much of what was happening on the pitch for us.

Doing writeups of every Leinster match as I do I tended to repeat myself as the season went on but here in one final post I will try to piece together exactly how I felt about the Matt O’Connor tenure.

Where I disagree most with his detractors is over the 2013/14 campaign.  While our style of rugby may not have been what we were used to, it cannot be denied that when it came to results, Matt’s first season at the RDS was better than Joe’s last and what’s more, the Aussie laid out his intention to fix our defensive structures at the start of the season and did exactly that, with our tries conceded numbers tumbling in the process.

Not that everything was rosy in the Leinster garden during that campaign and far from it, but I still felt the Anti-O’Connor rhetoric was harsh during that time, particularly when it centred around two specific results in Europe, one at home the Northampton and one away to Toulon.  Sure, we disappointed on those two occasions but what cannot be ignored is that those two clubs went on to win FOUR trophies between them that season.

But then we came to the second season.  You’ve fixed the defence and retained the league, Matt, well done.  Now what?  A senior-grade number 13 in his day, it seemed a logical step for him would be to evolve a style of attacking play for Leinster to go with the defence.  As the weeks wore on, however, it became clear that this was simply never going to happen.

Offloads became a thing of the past, there were was no endeavour to spread the play, we just seemed fixated on bringing the ball into contact wherever on the pitch, whatever the scoreline, whatever the stage of the game.  The selections in key positions did not seem to make sense, not least at outhalf where I feel Ian Madigan’s overall development was hurt by the fact he was not in O’Connor’s plans.  And much like last season, if it was a style that was bringing victories, even 3-0 ones, I’d more than likely be defending the system, but this wasn’t happening.

In the early stages of the season we were losing to Connacht, drawing with Treviso and the worst of all, being put out of sight with relative ease by Munster at the Aviva.  Such results put together with heavy weather made of a relatively easy European pool made the “anti-Matter” opinion swell from week to week and while I personally was still not totally giving up on him with a home quarterfinal to come, I could definitely appreciate the growing frustration.

Then came the Six Nations.  A period of the season Leinster fans have grown to rely on for putting right the wrongs from earlier in the season.  And it wasn’t as though we were completely without our top players...included in our squad during that time were the likes of Fergus McFadden, Luke Fitzgerald, Rhys Ruddock, Gordon D’Arcy and Dave Kearney.

Yet starting with the visit of the Dragons in February, the performances just went from bad to worse to even worse and the results went with them.  I never stopped providing what I called “Matt-igating” circumstances; injuries to key players, the fact other teams played well, the responsibility of the players to perform, and my personal favourite, the fact that he was competing with not one but two Joe Schmidts; one the successful Leinster coach before him and one the successful Ireland coach now.

But another thing we have to factor into all of this is his media profile.  Of course it would be a shame if this was the be-all and end-all of everything, but it’s a reality of sport these days that you have to present yourself to the public when it counts and this wasn’t exactly his strongest suit.  And publicly criticising the player welfare system certainly won’t have helped his cause.

Then after much despair we had that performance in Marseille.  The width of a rugby ball and one misjudged pass away from the Rugby Champions Cup final.  Would I be writing this post now if we had scored a famous victory over Toulon that made the final?  Who knows.  But the fact remains we didn’t, and the failure to make the Pro12 playoffs that followed pretty much sealed his fate.

And there’s another aspect to all of this - the imminent return of Johnny Sexton. While I would hold a certain level of respect for Matt O’Connor in the way he stuck to his beliefs on the way we should play the game, knowing how fervently Sexton sticks to HIS own beliefs which would be very different, I could not see the two seeing eye to eye.  Maybe this wasn’t a factor in the decision for him to move on but in my opinion it is a good thing we never found out how they’d reach a compromise.

This post has become a ramble but there’s a lot to discuss on this topic.  To read some of the commentators in the mainstream media, we “online types” have been unfair to Matt throughout his tenure but having actually followed the general trend of opinion I think it’s fair to say he wasn’t a good fit to the province, whether or not the fault was entirely on his side of the equation.

The bookies were quick to discuss a possible replacement, and the debate has been interesting to say the least.  To believe the movement of the odds it seems Robbie Deans is among the top favourite, but I’m happy to let Leinster Rugby take all the time they need to make the right decision - there’s a decent amount of time between now and the start of preseason.

In the meantime I would like to thank Matt O’Connor for his time spent at Leinster.  I wouldn’t blame him for being a bit disillusioned with us after a lot of the reaction he received, but I hope he appreciates some of us did our best to be objective.  There is definitely a place for him at the top level of rugby coaching, there was success during his time here, and I wish him all the best for the future. JLP

#COYBIB #WeWillBeBack

Tomorrow lunchtime, Part 3 - Munster.  I look ahead to their Pro12 semifinal against those pesky Ospreys.

Four proud provinces - Part 1 - #GLAvULS preview

Now seems to be a good time to check in on each of the four proud provinces and see where they stand as the 2014/15 season draws to a close, and so between today and tomorrow I’ll be harpin on each province one by and checking out where they stand.  

For my Leinster of course it will revolve around the head coaching job, while the other three are all involved in knockout rugby this weekend so I will take a look ahead to see how I feel they will get on -  first, Ulster.

The Leinster-less 2014/15 Pro12 playoffs kickoff tonight at Scotstoun as the Ulstermen hope Gregor Townsend’s side have a false sense of security after their comfortable victory last weekend.

I have no doubt that Neil Doak’s squad have the ability to pull off a result tonight.  No doubt at all.  They have players at key positions peaking at the right time of year like Paddy Jackson, Craig Gilroy and particularly Iain Henderson and if they can replicate that form this week and next even this Leinster blogger will have to concede they will be snapping at the heels of those above them in the World Cup pecking order.

But it will take more than individual displays to get past this Glasgow side.  What has made them perennial playoff contenders in recent years has been their cohesion from 1 to 15 when they have the ball, which makes defending extremely difficult.  If you commit numbers to the breakdown they have multiple offload options and normally pick the most effective one.  If you keep men away they’ll just take the ball up and barrel through the gaps.

So what Ulster are going to need tonight is a defence somewhere up around the levels they showed on that incredible Heineken Cup visit to Thomond Park back in 2012p, when they never went to their bench and made about a gagillion tackles.  It’s a big ask, but just in case a place in the final isn’t enough of a carrot, there’s the fact that it’s at Kingspan so I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.

Another thing Rory Best & co need to work on is discipline.  Of course we can dispute how the “Fair Play League” is organised but the fact remains Ulster were rock bottom of it.  They need to get on the right side of the ref while at the same time get on the wrong side of Niko Matawalu enough to ensure that when he does something unexpected like we all expect, it helps rather than hurts them.

The bookies are being surprisingly cautious with this fixture, tipping the home side by just 3 points, which definitely gives Ulster every chance.  While my heart is telling me they can both get on top early and stay there, my head is telling me the Warriors’ determination to get back to a final coupled with perhaps the bounce of the ball going against the Irish province will result in a home win by about 6-8pts.

I mean every word of it when I say that I hope I am horribly wrong and we have a rare playoff away win tonight.  As I’m watching I will definitely be standing up for the Ulstermen.  JLP


Later today : Four Proud Provinces Part 2 - Matt Finished

Lewis Moody drives Rugby World Cup 2015 Defender out of giant rugby ball on the Thames

  • Land Rover floats giant rugby ball along the Thames to Tower Bridge to reveal Rugby World Cup 2015  Defender 
  • Bespoke Rugby World Cup 2015 Defender, created by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations division, features a tailor-made display cabinet to showcase the Webb Ellis Cup
  • Land Rover is a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015 and Official Vehicle Partner
  • Land Rover shares the same passion, resolve and integrity that sits within the core of Rugby

Land Rover today revealed the bespoke Defender that will transport the Webb Ellis Cup on a 100-day tour around the UK and Ireland in the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2015.

In true Land Rover style the Rugby World Cup 2015 Defender emerged from a giant rugby ball, which had floated up the Thames from Tilbury Docks to the world famous Tower Bridge.  

Constructed at a secret location the 8.2 metre high ball travelled 25 miles upriver on Thursday afternoon, passing London’s iconic landmarks; the Thames Barrier, North Greenwich Arena, Canary Wharf and finally passing through Tower Bridge before being moored at Butler’s Wharf. 

At dawn, the ball opened to reveal the Land Rover Rugby World Cup 2015 Defender, with Land Rover Ambassador and Rugby World Cup 2003 winner Lewis Moody behind the wheel.

After driving the vehicle out of the giant ball, Moody was met by his Rugby World Cup 2003 captain and fellow Land Rover Ambassador Martin Johnson. Johnson was on hand with the Webb Ellis Cup to place the prestigious Trophy in the vehicle’s bespoke display cabinet.

Land Rover Ambassador Martin Johnson said: “This is an incredibly exciting time in the build-up to the start of Rugby World Cup 2015. The anticipation is really starting to build and with just over 100 days to go until the Tournament I am sure this amazing Land Rover spectacle, with the reveal of this truly remarkable Defender here in London, has fuelled the excitement even more. The Trophy Tour is a fantastic way for people to engage and celebrate Rugby in the countdown to the Tournament.”

Adapted from a Defender 110, the vehicle was built at Jaguar Land Rover’s state-of-the-art Special Vehicle Operations HQ in Oxford Road, Coventry, and features a specialised integrated cabinet for displaying the Webb Ellis Cup whilst driving. Constructed according to the Trophy’s specific measurements for the purpose of transporting the coveted prize in the build up to and during Rugby World Cup 2015, the cabinet features innovative design technologies such as remote locking, lighting and temperature control via an App operated by the driver.

Mark Cameron, Jaguar Land Rover Global Experiential Marketing Director, said: “Land Rover has been at the heart of rugby, from grassroots to elite level, for over two decades and the Trophy Tour Defender is another example of our commitment to the sport and Rugby World Cup 2015. We wanted to give as many fans as possible the chance to see the iconic Webb Ellis Cup throughout the Trophy Tour and beyond, and what better way of doing this than with a truly bespoke Land Rover Defender from our Special Vehicle Operations division?”

The 100-day Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, delivered by England Rugby 2015, begins on 10 June and the Defender will play a key role, transporting the Webb Ellis Cup around the UK and Ireland before delivering the Trophy to Twickenham Stadium for the Opening Ceremony on 18 September. The Trophy will also visit all Rugby World Cup 2015 Venues and Official Fanzones during the Tournament. The special design of the vehicle will enhance the viewing experience of the Trophy for all those across the country expected to be part of the Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour as excitement builds ahead of the Tournament.  

Land Rover recently launched its Rugby World Cup 2015 campaign, ‘We Deal In Real’, by asking some of its most high-profile Rugby ambassadors to lend a hand at a grassroots match in Hampshire, England. A Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2015, Land Rover rewarded amateur side Racal Decca RFC, recognised as the 'Smallest Rugby Club in the World', for its commitment to Rugby, by providing a host of the game’s biggest names to assist in the routine match day preparations. International stars such as Jonny Wilkinson, Sir Clive Woodward, Bryan Habana, Brad Thorn, Matt Giteau and Felipe Contepomi were present to fulfill all the match day roles from putting out the flags to leading the warm-ups and giving the pre-match team talks. Land Rover’s ‘We Deal In Real’ campaign will champion the people that are at the heart and soul of the game by putting grassroots clubs like Racal Decca on the global stage at Rugby World Cup 2015.

In addition to providing the Rugby World Cup 2015 Defender, Land Rover has been a Presenting Partner of the International Rugby World Cup Trophy Tour, which culminated in France earlier this month and saw the Trophy visit 15 countries around the world. Throughout the Tour, Land Rover committed to take the Webb Ellis Cup to places it has never been through its Least Driven Path activity, giving those around the world who would never otherwise see the Trophy the chance to do so, and helping England Rugby 2015 build excitement for the sport’s global showpiece. 


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