Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Leinster's Golden Triplet Conundrum

In his latest piece Big Joe Shep offers a prop's view of how Matt O'Connor should handle positions 10, 12 & 13...


OK, firstly, this is written from a prop's perspective so all you good looking, gelled hair, tanned bodied, white line fevered, glory seeking backs, please take this into account when reading below and remember that we only generally see you fleet footing it past us for large amounts of the game as you get the aforesaid white line fever and seek glory HOWEVER remember this;
  1. WE get you there with the hard graft to begin with.
  2. If you get greedy and mess up the try or fumble a pass…we’ll be watching!
  3. If and when you DO mess up as per Point 2 above, be assured, we will wait till the game is over and offer you some Positive Advice & Encouragement!!
  4. WE only need to get 1 poss 2 good runs in a game to be remembered
  5. If we are keeping up alongside you, then you’re not working hard enough!
  6. We DO practice sidesteps and it looks pretty awesome when it comes off!
  7. We don’t have a fancy “Dive” across the line. We’re glad to get there and too busy catching our breath afterwards.
  8. We adopt K.I.S.S. Methodology to our game! (See below)

Anyhow, on with the show. 

Life after Sexton, BOD (Can’t call him DRICO as he don’t like it!) & D’Arcy (as a grouping) was ALWAYS going to bring about a period of transition, a period of “it’ll never be as good” a period of “We’re doomed!!”, a period of “MOC forced BOD to retire and told the IRFU to sell Sexton” and other such utter nonsense from some so called true blue Leinster Rugby fans!!. Clearly I jest………or do I? I’m still smarting at some ignoramus booing Prop Michael Bent when he ran onto the pitch recently. 

I had read so much about the 10, 12, 13 issue, listened intently to those who genuinely know more about the tactical awareness and requirements for this area, actually learned a lot about what this important trio do and how, if / when they get it right, it completely changes the game. 

When all said and done though I attempted to put some K.I.S.S. Methodology to it. Now for those of you not familiar with the expression and are of a sensitive persuasion (Backs), it means KEEP IT SIMPLE SOLUTIONS………for those of you of a hardier persuasion (Forwards) it stands for, KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID!! (I refer to Point 8 above to the Backs reading this!)

The one thing I’ll always take away and that came to me was the reliability that the leading teams have with those chosen at 10, 12 & 13 to play consistently and persistently in those positions in order to create a sibling-like understanding as well as a stable foundation that acts as a platform to build from. We shall call them the “Golden Triplets”.

Coupled with this is those “Golden Triplets” having an intimate knowledge and understanding of each other, their roles, responsibilities, systems, processes, ways and manner of play. Every little thing from having the widest vision to throw a huge pass cross field when their “Golden Triplet” brothers in arms weren’t at the right point to take or when it was tactically the correct play right through their entire playlist to those little “Pop Ups” or “Wrap Arounds” without the ball carrier actually seeing his “Golden Triplet” but just instinctively knowing they were there, in the right place at the right time and in the right place to receive, just inch perfect. BOD & D’Arce had that, an understanding that stood the test of (I believe) 13 years. Supported by Sexton they were individually lauded but I’m not always sure the three as “Golden Triplets” were given the credits they deserved. I think at times we all took a lot for granted and hoped it would never end……but end it did.

Now, following Sextons departure then BODs retirement (Let’s face it, Brian only played in selected games in last seasons campaign so reality was when Sexton left, together with Brians injuries etc etc), the “Golden Triplets” were split up and the successful grouping therefore finished long before the final moment.

So where are we currently? Well I’m NOT going to go over my previous pieces about MOC and the myriad of issues or injuries or looking long term or transition or whatever………….what we DO need is some stability. Let’s try and create a 10,12,13 channel that will create that consistency and therefore stability for Leinster Rugby going forward.

FLY HALVES (10):
Jonny SEXTON: Not quite the demi god that BOD or “Saint” Joe Schmidt are, but it’ll come in time once he returns from France and saves the day!!!!!

Ian MADIGAN: a 25 year old who has played 114 games for his province and scored some 576 points. He is comfortable at Fly Half, Inside Centre (12) AND Full Back. There has been speculation that it has harmed his career not playing in one singular specific role. I disagree. I think that he gives both Leinster and Ireland some additional flexibility that the current crop of injuries would unto not have highlighted the requirement for? Perhaps I’m wrong. Whilst he won’t eventually be remembered for the world class singular position that BOD did at Outside Centre (13), Madders offers a modern coach an acute flexibility to adapt as required. Will he stay after this season and with Sextons return? Interesting to see.

Jimmy GOPPERTH: The 31 year old New Zealander has played 36 games scoring 248 points for Leinster since his arrival. His season to date has admittedly been mixed. He was brought in after Sextons departure and is a quality kicker. It’s fair to say that when Leinster are on fire, so is Jimmy. When they’re not, he can struggle. He’s a one trick pony but a GOOD pony and I’ve come to admire what he does. His contract runs out at the end of this season and I was / am / poss (lol) convinced he came in for a 3 year tenure as a filler. Will he stay on when Sexton returns with others available? Depends on whether Madigan stays and whom MOC decides should provide backup to Sexton………Gopperth, Reid or someone else!!! 

Noel REID: The 24 year old Dubliner has actually played some 33 times and scoring 40 points. He can play at both Fly Half and Inside Centre. I believe the description by www.thescore.ie after last years Treviso game sums him up well. Crisp passing off both hands and over respectable distances, neat footwork and bursts of acceleration for half-breaks before offloading. 

CENTRES:
Inside Centre (12) and Outside Centre (13)

Gordon D’ARCY: Aged 34 having played a monumental 241 games and amassing 334 points. His relationship with the legendary Brian O’Driscoll is globally renowned. Darce can play at 12 but also could be seen as a successor to BOD at 13 but it wouldn’t be long term? Personally I believe that if this occurs it is only for 1 – 2 seasons whilst we are developing the next generation. He understands the position so well that it could be a natural progression. He would bring stability, tactical awareness, experience and a rugby know-how which you just cannot bring in “on tap”.

Fergus McFADDEN: The 28 year old from Kilkenny has played some 113 games and scoring 324 points. He has to be fair played a second fiddle to BOD / D’arce yet still played 28 times for Ireland. He has recently picked up an ankle injury which will probably keep him out for 6 weeks or so, thereby precluding him from the autumn internationals as well as for the province. At 28 though, he could easily slip into a centre role alongside Madigan and the returning Sexton and create a new “Triplet” for a good 6 or more seasons to come.

Brendan MACKEN: The 23 year old product of the Leinster Rugby Academy has played 45 times for Leinster scoring 30 points. A naturally gifted player, Macken has again been unfortunate to live in the shadows of BOD, D’arce and Fergus but has taken his opportunities well and always been a leading light with the “A” team and in the British & Irish Cup triumphs. Perhaps with time on his side, he should be given more opportunities? My concern is with bringing in of Ben Te’o, Macken may well move on to another province or to UK.

Ben TE’O: The 27 year old New Zealand born Samoan international, arrives at Leinster after switching codes from League and a successful career. MOC has bought him in following BODs retirement BUT that doesn’t mean he’ll be the automatic natural replacement. Far from it, many code switchers have failed to make the transition and reports have it that BOD will mentor Ben. If the transition goes smoothly AND quickly, his strength, speed and power could be positive addition to the Leinster arsenal. 

OTHERS: Colm O’SHEA / Gary RINGROSE / Thomas FARRELL / Cathal MARSH / Ross BYRNE  There are a number of newly promoted and current Academy players who could be brought in if and when required. Given the current crop of injuries and the internationals, I wouldn’t rule anything out. I’m not acquainted with these youngsters but was impressed with Ringrose during the Junior World Cup recently. 

THE SOLUTION: 
Well, now the rub. Who oh who should Leinster create as a longer term “Triplets” that could provide the stability required moving forward from this season in into the next 2 or more? My choice is;

CURRENT SEASON:
Fly Half - 10: Jimmy GOPPERTH: He has the capabilities to keep the Leinster game afloat and will allow Madigan to stake a full time slot elsewhere. IF repeat IF he extends his contract next season, it’ll be merely as cover to Sexton. What says he can go is the fact we have REID available.

Inside Centre - 12: Ian MADIGAN: Mad-dog needs to stake a full time slot and I believe that he has the vision, pace, strength & capability to become the leading light in this “Triplet”. Whereas it was previously BOD, I think Madigan is ripe to become the next Leinster demi-god in historical perspectives.

Outside Centre - 13: Gordon D’ARCY: I believe as outlined above, that it is a natural progression for such an experienced player to become the core of the “Triplets”. Getting rid of the beard will bring a more streamlined D’arce!

NEXT SEASON (and beyond):
Fly Half - 10: Jonny SEXTON: Cos he will be. That’s why he is coming home! Who provides cover whilst he’s on international duty and player management periods……Gopperth or Reid and eventual Academy players coming through.
Inside Centre - 12: Ian MADIGAN: For all the reasons stated above and the long term stability for Leinster Rugby. Fergus will provide cover support.
Outside Centre - 13: Brendan MACKEN: Macken has the time on his side to be able to make the role his own. I believe that if BOD is coming in to mentor Te’o, then he should be doing the same with young Macken. If Leinster really wish to play in the true traditional Leinster manner, then let’s go with a youngster who understands the Leinster “Way”, has proven himself when given the opportunities and can rise to the challenge. I believe having a dozen consistent games on the trot will really show how good he is. 

(N.B. Clearly if we could do a Toulon or Sarries, then you’d be looking at a marquee player be with IRFU and our systems we don’t. I’m a huge fan of youngsters being developed and having the time to develop and “build” the role around them. That’s exactly what BOD did. Oh and as for Ben Te’o…………He’ll provide cover for Macken and possibly the 12 the position and be used in certain games. IF and only IF he transitions exceptionally well, then we may see him on a regular basis giving Leinster a similar player akin to Wesley Fofana of Clermont. Having not played a single game, you simply couldn’t say)

FINALLY: 
Well there you have it. A prop’s view. It should be remembered that there are enough games in the season now to comfortably give each position 2 players but I’m still one for creating the “Golden Triplets”. Consistency and persistency will give us stability and provides a strong, core foundation for Leinster to achieve European glory once more.  

@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management atDigital Knowledge Zone.   An avid Leinster & Ireland Rugby fan, he came to rugby at the late age of 24, was a tight head prop, had at least 2 good runs in every game and retired at only 36 after 3 operations on his legs and now forms the 4th "virtual" person in a front row each time his beloved teams are playing (much to the annoyance of his suffering girlfriend who has to put up with being "embraced" by the Big Fella at each scrum!!!)

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