Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Leinster Rugby: Is it Insanity Or Just A Cyclical Part Of Life?

Introduction:

I was looking at some of the varied pieces I have written this season to date and wondering where we (Leinster) currently stand and what do we need to do looking forward. Is it just part of the cycle of life or are we going insane doing the same things over and over and expecting different results??

Interestingly, all Irish Provinces aren’t performing as we are used to. Connacht had a flurry but that’s died a death. Ulster are imploding, Munster have been hit n miss and as for dear old Leinster……….Well we still believe but we ARE in danger of having the worse season for some 8-10 years.
That contrasted with the Irish team who are continuously improving inder “Saint” Joe. Last week the 4 Welsh Regions put our Provinces to the sword. I hope we do the same to their National team in Cardiff this saturday. Question is, why is one successful and the other struggling. Ok I accept there’s the possibility for all Provinces to finish in the Top 6 but it doesn’t compare against the French Top 14 or the Top 6 in the English premiership. There’s not the same consistency or levels?
Coaching Staff:
I highlighted in a previous article that whilst I do genuinely believe MOC is a capable coach and I wrote a piece on him, trying to give a wider view on his previous achievements. Whilst writing that, I genuinely felt that whilst he is a professional and capable coach, he is better suited as a No 2 who can focus on the defensive aspects and other areas working to a Head Coach who is dynamic, innovative, adaptable and has an attacking mindset. Unfortunately, MOC isn’t that type of coach and in sum, he just doesn’t suit the type of club that is Leinster Rugby! We’ll wish him well in his future just not with Leinster Rugby.
Whilst many blamed MOC entirely for all the wrongs, I opined that actually Leo Cullen, as brilliant a player and servant as he’s been to Leinster Rugby, probably wasn’t suited currently to his position. Great players don’t always make great coaches. Those that do need time to develop into the role. Some of the best coaches in the world weren’t brilliant as players but they have a natural flair for the game and a superb understanding of coaching and management of individuals and a team. There are many throughout history in sport who fall into this category and Joe Schmidt is such a man. Oh and there’s no point shouting for BOD or Isa to come in as Head Coach now and believing it will all be well. Their time will come but not yet I suspect.
Likewise, MOC has singularly failed to articulate what his overall tactical approach is? What and why he is playing or attempting to play with his offensive & defensive plays and above all why they don’t appear to be able to adapt when it’s going wrong on the field? In contrast every post match interview I’ve seen, all he does is  fail to take responsibility, have a Laissez Faire approach to what’s going on and doesn’t seem to see anything is wrong. Grow some Matt. You’re the Head Coach.Take some Ownership of Responsibility!! Have some pride and belief. We do! The players will take their lead from you. It’s NOT rocket science………just management of a bunch of class individuals that you are responsible for developing into a team to play and win at rugby.

Also, I’m just not convinced how much say the other coaches have at Leinster with MOC? Again I’d opine that if coaching staff, players et al had a say in the playing plans and development as a team should, then there’d be ground found to develop playing styles and adapting plays on the field neither of which appear to be the case ergo just must surmise that there’s an autocratic style of management going on i.e. it’s MOCs way or no way??
Style of Play:
Well we’ve discussed this at great pains. Some say there’s NO plan whereas I believe MOC plays hybrid rugby but from a defensive mindset which doesn’t work. It’s a contradiction in terms. I wrote the following in a piece after Round 3 and nothing has changed much across all 3 European leagues….”What I have noticed is that the top sides really do play the ball well at the breakdown (like Leinster used to do), are strong defensively (again…….) they have strength in numbers and the ball comes out to players who are running in, “On the hoof” as it where (unlike Leinster whose players are flat, singular and oft times without, it appears direction, an adaptive plan and are pretty leaderless). Static playing or being unable to adapt makes you weak and vulnerable defensively and slow to mount meaningful attacks.”
In Round 3 I saw Sarries in a game against the Irish Exiles in injury time get an easily kickable penalty to draw the game. Instead they kicked for touch, took the lineout and a superb rolling maul saw them over the line for a WIN not a “We’re happy to win at any cost or anyhow” type of attitude. Winners and champions PLAY like winners and champions.
Players:
I believe it’s pretty clear that we need a clear our . Perhaps we should get the Tullow Tank to do if internally! No-one better that the Tank for clearing out unnecessary players! There are some great players who have given a huge service to Leinster and Ireland but we may ask are they past their best? Isaac Boss, Eoin Redden, Mike Ross, Gordon D’Arcy...how long do they continue. Some of those I believe are capable of giving another season at top flight. Mike Ross and Gordon D’Arcy but the others. Is it better to have a clear out now?
Then there’s the likes of Kane Douglas. I personally like his style and showed much promise initially but he’s off the boil. Jimmy Gopperth is going and for one, I wish him all the success I believe he’ll have at Wasps. He has as it’s been pointed out “Played to death!” this season and I don’t feel he’ll ever get the full support of everyone at Leinster. Then of course there’s Mad Dog. Just what will become of Ian Madigan. Will he stay as cover at 10 when Sexton returns but is away at RWC 15 and 6 Nations OR will he himself be part of Joe Schmidt's plans in the Irish squad?  Will he ever get to play a regular role and position? Is he ACTUALLY Irish standard?
It was the youth, the “A” team, Academy plus a handful of non-international playing senior squad members who won all their games during last years 6 Nations period and helped overturn a 10pt deficit to Munster and provide the foundations for Leinster to go on and win the title. Look where the likes of Jack Conan, Marty Moore, Tadhg Furlong etc have come in just 12 months. See what CAN be done. Who is next to rise up? Whoever it is MUST be given requisite game time to allow them to develop into their roles at the senior level.   
Even knowing what the Leinster Provincial Board have planned would be a start? It’s time for Mr Dawson and the whole Leinster Board to look hard at what is the development process from Academy to 1st team to NIQ players, yes in conjunction with the IRFU as part of the overall Irish Development Plan for rugby but interestingly after writing recently on the excellent Irish National Rugby white papers and plans, I cannot find one for Leinster Rugby?
Oh and players DO need to stand up and take responsibility especially the leaders. We need an overall club captain. We then need an on park skipper and a pack leader. I don’t believe Jamie H can do all those. Too much pressure on the bloke in my opinion and at times it can affect his game. It needs looking at.
Oh and a combined comment on coaching/players…………….how come Girve the Swerve and his band of merry ploughboys have been so successful winning back to back British & Irish Cups and are on track for a third? Perhaps take a look there and see whether it’s time to move Girve up to the senior team. Just a thought Mr Dawson??
Conclusion:
Overall, I believe there are still a number of factors that have caused Leinster to be where we are at this time, Players leaving, injuries, youngsters and developing players not given enough game time, static and defensive game plans, lack of belief when it’s going wrong, lack of adaptability on the park when it’s not working, failure to take Ownership of Responsibility by players and coaching staff, public statements of a negative, defensive fashion i.e. “As long as we win by any means and any points and style, it’ll be ok” (Paraphrased from a number of statements by MOC, Jamie Heaslip etc) and non-acceptance that a defeat or number of defeats doesn’t matter i.e. MOC and his “It’s irrelevant” moment amongst others.
All these HAVE been factors and like everything, life is cyclical. We have “Windows of Opportunity” for winning championships. Leinster had ours under Cheika / Schmidt. Those times WILL come again but it’s time now for the plan for Leinsters future to be articulated. Even if we somehow turn things around over the remaining Pro 12 & European Champions Cup games and win all and take trophies, there’s still a lot needs reviewing. It would be false economy given what we have seen and experienced this year to ignore the requirements to ensure we are in the right place for the next 3 - 5 seasons.
I believe there are times in any organisation when you simply need to take stock and review whether what you are doing is still in line with your stated aims and goals. Articulating a 3 - 5 year game plan to the Leinster faithful would be a start along with the plan for players, old new and developing. Whatever is wrong, it’s more than just MOC and we need to stop doing what we are currently doing. A definition of insanity is carrying on doing the same as you’re doing and expecting the results to change!! It would be insane to just carry on as we are and hope things will change.
The Big Fella
@bigjoeshep is the Owner and Head of Information & Knowledge Management at Digital 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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