Friday 30 September 2016

George Hook: Tired Leinster tactics see game crying out for new plan

Published 16/11/2015 | 02:30

Dejected Leinster players (from left) Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Jordi Murphy, and Jamie Heaslip troop off the pitch after their humiliating defeat to Wasps
Dejected Leinster players (from left) Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Jordi Murphy, and Jamie Heaslip troop off the pitch after their humiliating defeat to Wasps

If Argentina was a wake-up call for Ireland, then this will have set alarm bells ringing across Leinster. Everything we feared happened in the humiliation by Wasps.

  • Go To

Selection, game plan and player performance were all below the standards expected of a team in European competition.

It was 'same old, same old' in every aspect. The ageing Mike Ross was preferred to Tadhg Furlong; Garry Ringrose was sidelined in favour of the eminently predictable Fergus McFadden; and astonishingly, Ian Madigan was at full-back, while Zane Kirchner - a full-back by trade - stayed on the wing.

The Joe Schmidt Ireland theories were all over this team. There was a complete inability to score a try, off-loads were an endangered species and, once again, the battle of the back row was comprehensively lost.

Leo Cullen, watching on from the Leinster coaches’ box, in pensive mood as he watches his troops struggle against Wasps in the RDS
Leo Cullen, watching on from the Leinster coaches’ box, in pensive mood as he watches his troops struggle against Wasps in the RDS

Jordi Murphy never fired a shot but he had the excuse of being the junior partner.

The comparison between Sean O'Brien and George Smith was interesting. The Australian Wasp constantly sought to pass or off-load while the Tullow Tank ran head-first into the nearest defender.

Meanwhile, it is becoming increasingly difficult to understand what Jamie Heaslip contributes to the game. He would not have made the top six No 8s in the RWC, and yesterday he looked like a schoolboy against Nathan Hughes.

Despite having two complete Ireland front rows available, the Leinster scrum was demolished and the lineout stuttered every time the call was to the back.

Jonathan Sexton, Leinster, is tackled by Ben Jacobs, left, and Ashley Johnson, Wasps
Jonathan Sexton, Leinster, is tackled by Ben Jacobs, left, and Ashley Johnson, Wasps

If that was not bad enough, in possession, the handling and passing was amateur.

The kicking by Johnny Sexton and Madigan was very poor and the out-half had his worst match in years.

We know rugby is a dangerous sport but, the way Leinster played, it was no surprise that the team had three concussions in 40 minutes. Leading with the head is not best practice. The threat of a major legal action against rugby because of brain damage to a player is coming ever-closer and platitudes about protocols are Canute-like against the tide of evidence.

Leo Cullen unloaded the bench in an effort to inject some urgency and flair in to the team.

Wasps players celebrate in the final moments of the the European Champions Cup, pool five match at the RDS
Wasps players celebrate in the final moments of the the European Champions Cup, pool five match at the RDS

Ringrose had to wait for the final nine minutes to make an appearance. He promptly made a half-break, complemented it with an off-load and the Leinster player went close to the try line.

If the opinion of experienced watchers of soccer are anything to go by, Ringrose might be better trying his luck with Martin O'Neill and Roy Keane than Schmidt and Cullen.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, Munster looked utterly unconvincing, despite scraping to a four-try bonus point against a hapless Treviso at Thomond Park.

The departure of Paul O'Connell has exposed a chronic lack of leadership within the team. CJ Stander is a fine ball carrier and an important physical asset to the pack, but he is not a leader in the traditional Munster mould.

Ian Keatley, at out-half, still seems unsure of himself and Munster are lacking a talented, confident general to run the backline.

Ironically, the man perfectly fit to do that job was leading Northampton to victory against the Scarlets at Franklin Gardens on Saturday night. That Munster allowed JJ Hanrahan to leave last season, regardless of the fine details, still sticks in the craw.

Munster look devoid of play-makers across the backline and it is increasingly obvious that the coaching staff do not have the sufficient repertoire for success in Europe.

Munster and Leinster now have backroom staff with no experience of foreign methods, and are coaching some of their former team-mates.

Cullen and Girvan Dempsey, Anthony Foley and Brian Walsh have been promoted beyond their talents and without international coaching experience.

The watching television audience will increasingly ask as the season progresses, how do the players and the coaches of the southern hemisphere create a game of pace, movement and evasion, while Ireland and the provinces are locked in a strategic time warp that is 20 years old?

Perhaps the paying customers know more than the former players that proliferate the punditry chairs and are unwilling to challenge their pals.

The Munster faithful know it too and have abandoned ship in their droves. Six years ago, a half-empty stadium for the opening round of European competition would have been unthinkable.

Indo Sport

Read More

Promoted articles

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport