"So the result was disappointing and the performance was disappointing but what that does to the top four is irrelevant with five games remaining.”
Post-match press conference quotes themselves can be considered irrelevant and are often are taken out of context, but this particular one by Matt O’Connor does not sit well at all, coming as it does after an uncharacteristically dismal mid-Six Nations sequence for Leinster, and on top of that it was the week season ticket holders were emailed their renewal reminders.
You don’t need me to tell you the Leinster head coach had copped a large amount of flak from supporters, and not just this season...even winning the Pro12 title wasn’t enough for some in the last campaign.
And that last point has led me to distance myself from the criticism, affording him the opportunity to build on that success and try to put a firm stamp in the way the province plays the game. But the way we have played in this recent series of four matches against the Dragons, Zebre, Ospreys and now the Scarlets has led me to have serious doubts about the way forward for this coaching ticket.
There are those who dismiss all negative opinion out of hand, particularly that which appears online. For me, I think criticism is fine once two things happen...that you at least acknowledge that there are some silver linings, and that you yourself can offer an alternative. This is why I still don’t hold to the “MOC out” mindset which I feel is too simplistic.
Now I know this is meant to be a match writeup, but I not only try to comment on what went on in a particular Leinster clash but also to put a perspective on how the performance sits with our season in general, so forgive me if this one leans more towards the latter. Though often where I plan to make general points I can relate them to Saturday’s match in Llanelli.
So here’s what I aim to do...rather than simply suggest that we change our coaching ticket mid-season, I’m going to first spell out what I call “Matt-igating” factors, which hopefully will “earn” me the right to point out where I reckon he has gone wrong, and finally offer suggestions as to how we can proceed in the business end of the campaign.
In other words, this is bound to be a lighthearted read and just the thing to cheer you up at the start of a week ;-)
OK - here goes....first up, the things we can’t fully pin on Matt. None of them count as “excuses” on their own, but taken together they make for a decent defence in my opinion.
Injuries - Losing Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy for such a large chunk of the season was the headline story on the injury front, but certainly not the only one for Leinster. How many last minute changes have we had to make to our matchday 23s? Not to mention the amount of injuries we have shipped in the first quarter like Ben Te’o against Embra and Dave Kearney in Coventry.
Where the buck stops - of course it eventually falls at the head coach, but surely not before hitting others on the way. The players themselves have been at pains to take responsibility for poor performances all season, and the question marks surrounding Leo Cullen’s “Martin Johnson-like” elevation to a top coaching position have been growing.
Other teams have played well - In this recent sequence of poor Leinster displays, we have dropped points to Welsh regions who have also had success in that spell against other Irish provinces. Also, the Scarlets have proven particularly tough to beat at home this season.
It hasn’t been all bad - Ben Te’o’s try in Llanelli was a classic example of how things have clicked for us this season (and though he had some dodgy offloads he is definitely improving and I'd be happy to continue the experiment for now) and in our last two outings in particular we have done well to build early leads...it was just in the keeping of them where we’ve gone astray but I’ll get to that later.
Reffing - Everyone blames the ref when their team loses, that’s a given. But that doesn’t make them immune. Against the Scarlets, for example, their openside James Davies was awarded man of the match mostly for two key breakdown decisions in the second half where I felt he was given almost Richie McCaw levels of leeway by George Clancy. And I don’t even have a problem with that once it’s given to both teams but our jacklers seemed to need to engage for a lot longer to attract a whistle. Don’t get me wrong, the Scarlets deserved the win, but I could make a strong case that we could have at least gotten a losing bonus.
He’s not Joe - This for me is the biggest Matt-igating factor. Not only was he competing with his predecessor from the previous 3 years of multiple trophies, O’Connor’s attempts to put his own stamp on Leinster come at a time when Joe has the cheek to be doing extremely well with the Irish squad. No matter who had the job that was always going to be an uphill battle.
OK, I reckon that’s enough. Hopefully by now you can see that I’m not willing to just diss anyone out of hand and that I'm trying to be both realistic and constructive. Now to the negative...
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Cardiff Blues 18 - 17 Connacht
Benetton Treviso 8 - 29 Edinburgh
Friday, March 27
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors, RDS, 7:35pm
Ulster v Cardiff Blues, Kingspan Stadium, 7:35pm
Saturday, March 28
Scarlets v Edinburgh, Parc y Scarlets, 2:40pm
Munster v Connacht, Thomond Park, 5:15pm
Ospreys v Zebre, Liberty Stadium, 7:15pm
Benetton Treviso v NG Dragons, Stadio di Monigo, 7:30pm