Friday, September 25, 2020

Whether it's the Euro loss or the perfect Pro14, Leinster shouldn't over-react, writes Kevin O'Brien

No matter what way you look at it the quarter final defeat to a depleted Saracens was a bitter pill to swallow for Leinster fans. It took the gloss of what had been up to then an excellent season. The manner of the defeat, beaten up by a large English pack, was tough to take. However, the over reaction to the defeat was every bit as big as the over reaction to the undefeated Pro14 season. Before the match most commentators had Leinster as clear favourites especially as Sarries had lost Farrell. I urged caution to anyone who would listen on social media as this was still a team that contained the Vunipola brothers and the irrepressible Maro Itoje who were well capable of wining the game on their own. It was also, despite the loss of personnel, a battle -hardened Mark McCall team who had targeted this match for months. The manner of the defeat was painful with the ever physical Sarries dominating all over the field. The scrum was a shambles. What exactly is Robyn McBryde being paid for? I also felt that for once Leo and Stuart got the team selection wrong. As many have pointed out the balance of the backrow looked off and I would have stuck with Kelleher over an undercooked Cronin at Hooker. Maybe having such a big squad forces the coaches to over think things at times? On one level I was not surprised with the defeat. Leinster had not come back from lockdown in great form. There was two unimpressive wins against Munster where set price problems were again to the fore. There was a good win against another out of form team in Ulster but this did nothing to ease my mind that Leinster were out not playing with the same fluidity and confidence they showed earlier in the season. If JJ had kicked his penalties who knows what might have happened. Of course wining the Pro14 with an unbeaten season should not be diminished as an achievement, however the Sarries defeat left meant the season was a bitter sweet one for me. Despite the Quarter Final set back I still feel Leinster rugby is in good shape. Last season saw the introduction of the next generation of players. It was a real breakthrough year for Doris, Connors, Keenan and Kelleher. Baird greatly impressed towards the end of the season and showed what a talent he is going to be. These guys along with the likes of Furlong, Porter, Ryan, Laramour, the Byrne brothers and hopefully Dan Leavy will drive Leinster on over the next few seasons. There’s really not too much to change really. Yes, they lacked aggression against Sarries but for me that was a once off, though I would like to see the likes of Ryan play with more edge especially in big games like European Quarter Finals. There are some areas of concern going into next season. Cian Healy has been a true warrior for Leinster but he has looked off the pace a bit after coming back from injury. The back-ups Byrne, Dooley and Milne, whilst fine players in their own right, have yet to convince at top European levels. Scrum-half too is an area lacking true quality. I would have had Gibson Park on earlier against Sarries as McGrath was below par with his erratic passing to the fore again. Outside these two the depth at nine is relatively untired and un-tested. You also have to look at the set piece and hop the coaches get to grips with the prevailing issues next season. Denis Fogarty has been a big loss! It must not be forgotten though, that there has been a big transition over the last number of seasons with significant players like Isa Nacewa, Sean O’Brien and now McFadden and the great Rob Kearney leaving Leinster. These guys were experienced battle-hardened winners who drove standards at the club. Leinster is now a relatively young squad and its up to the new breed to drive the club on. There’s no doubt in my mind that the ability is there. It’s now up to the players to re-group and hit the ground running in the up-coming season. As a team, Leinster has taken hard knocks before and bounced back and I’m sure they will again.

Kevin O’Brien (@kmjob73) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.
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Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019