Mike Ross: ‘It’s not the way we play – it was far off our level’
Ross urges Blues to come back fighting from Connacht debacle and kickstart season by beating Munster
Picture the scene. Monday morning in UCD and Leinster are awaiting the detailed response and interrogation from coach Joe Schmidt following last Friday night's humiliation in Connacht.
For all the world it might have resembled a gaggle of schoolkids waiting to be upbraided by the headmaster.
"I had flashbacks of being sent to the principal's office, waiting outside on the chair wondering what the hell's going to happen to you," smiled Mike Ross wanly.
At least it might have felt like a memory from childhood if this didn't happen to be a professional organisation, featuring some of the country's highest paid and most highly talented athletes.
"We're a bit past school now and it's a very mature group," said a mildly reproachful Schmidt. His private mood may have been a tad sterner.
"We soon found out what it was like," admitted Ross sheepishly as he reflected on what may yet be manufactured into a turning point for Leinster's season. Only if its primary lessons are absorbed, however.
"It wasn't a happy meeting but after the way we played at the weekend, I don't think we could expect anything else."
Even a few days later, it seems jarring to recall how significantly Leinster's standards dropped all over the park, and in particular how their spirit sagged in the face of Connacht's marvellous onslaught.
"It's not the way we play, you know," agreed Ross when it was put to him that a significant amount of Leinster heads dropped.
"We've built up a certain level for ourselves over the last couple of years and we were far off that on Friday night.
"A lot of it is down to how Connacht played, they played very well and put us under a lot of pressure. And there were a few of the younger lads (out there). It will stand them in good stead going forward."
And his message ahead of Saturday's pivotal appointment with perennial rivals Munster is staggeringly direct in its simplicity.
"We just have to win our collisions, really. I mean we can't keep going backwards, soaking up tackles and expect to come out on top, it's not the way it works," he stressed.
"Rugby is a collision-winning sport and we need to do that on Saturday if we're to beat Munster, otherwise we might as well not turn up."
Complacency might be a midwife to suggestions that, now that the calendar displays October, Leinster's predictable early-season travails will simply ease away into insignificance.
A greater injury profile than normal and the manner of last Friday's submission might betray that particularly convenient theory.
"We generally do tend to start slowly," Ross said, "based on previous seasons, because you've guys feeding back in and you try to get continuity, so it can be difficult.
"But on the flipside of that, we've a player-management programme. It's just tended to hurt us at the start of the season.
"I don't know where our form is at, it's hard to say. Obviously a win would put us back on track.
"If you think back over previous years, in Joe's first year we had a bad loss against Edinburgh and then we came back and won. Then the year after we had a slow enough start to the season and we won. It'll help but it's up to us to put things right. We can't just be relying on, 'well, it's Munster, let's turn up'."
Cork-born Ross has been impressed with the manner in which Munster have adapted to their new coaching ticket with some ease, although they too were dismantled away from home last weekend.
"They've been playing really well," Ross continued. "They've had a good start to the season and a new coaching staff with Rob Penney and Simon Mannix in there with the backs, and Anthony Foley coaching the forwards; it seems to be going well.
"So they've got a good coaching staff, good astute signings, a big centre partnership in Casey Laulala and James Downey. It's always tough against Munster, it's a derby game and one of the toughest games of the season.
"There's guys in the pack there that we already know about. Dave Kilcoyne is a new loosehead who's come in there and he's been going well for them.
"I'm impressed with how well he's played and he's certainly putting pressure on Wian du Preez and Marcus Horan.
"They've other young lads who've come in and done well. Stephen Archer is going well for them. He's certainly cutting his teeth at this level. He'll have good days and bad days but I've seen a fair few good days from him."
Leinster have enough to worry about in their own squad, though, from leaky defence to creaky set-pieces and everything in between. Somehow, they must find a way to remember how well they can do instead of wallowing.
"We can't be too down on ourselves, you know. We have to come back fighting. I don't know if this game is going to kickstart our season but it certainly would be a good to get another win in the column," Ross added.
"Our defence hadn't been where we wanted it to be and we certainly need to tighten up on that aspect of our play ahead of this weekend.
"We've got this Munster game and the double Heineken Cup games to come. We've a bit of a hill to climb but I'm confident that we can do it."