'Gutted' Leinster players let Matt O'Connor down - Jimmy Gopperth
Published 28/05/2015 | 02:30
Jimmy Gopperth didn't see Matt O'Connor's sacking coming and is disappointed that Leinster's poor performances cost the Australian his job.
The New Zealander was signed by Joe Schmidt, and became the Ireland coach's successor's go-to fly-half during his two seasons in charge.
Had his last gasp drop-goal attempt in the closing stages of last month's Champions Cup semi-final defeat to Toulon been on target, then O'Connor may well still be in the job.
However, a disappointing collapse in league form caused the province's Professional Games Board to bring O'Connor's time in charge to an end last week.
Not that Gopperth (above) is full of regrets as he prepares to play his final game in Ireland before moving to Wasps next season, leading the Barbarians backline against the Six Nations champions tonight.
He leaves with good memories and with his head held high, in the knowledge that he gave his all to the cause.
"It was a tough week last week. I think the whole team were pretty gutted," he said.
"Matt is such a likeable character. Everybody enjoyed working with him. It was a big shock. I didn't really see it coming.
"Every player is wishing him all the best for his future because he is a very, very good coach.
"I'd say teams would jump in there trying to get him. He is one of those coaches that you don't find too many of. Unfortunately for some reason he didn't get to see his time out here. He won't find it hard to get another job for sure.
"At the end of the day the coaches aren't out there kicking the ball, passing or tackling. It's all players. We do feel like we let him down but we let ourselves down as well as players.
"There were three or four games we easily should have won and probably would have easily been in the top four of the Pro12.
"But that's rugby. We have just got to move forward and be better as a player and as a team. Whoever comes in next year, the boys will be up for it."
As one of Leinster's overseas players, Gopperth is one of the few who was involved throughout the campaign.
O'Connor struggled with the player management system and the fact that large swathes of his squad would be unavailable for important games, and his fly-half empathises with the coach.
"It's hugely hard. I tried to work out, this year there was only two games where we had the same 23 - it was the Bath and Toulon games and even that changed late," he recalled.
"I had 14 different partnerships in the centres throughout the year. If you try and get combination with that . . . and we were still a couple of centimetres off getting to a European final.
"For whoever gets that job it's a tough task but that is why you have challenges in sport and Leinster have done well throughout the years because they are bound together.
"This year we really missed when Shane Jennings was injured. Last year we had Leo Cullen, guys like that who brought us through that tough period. They will be better off for it.
"It's a very tight-knit group. I don't think much needs to be fixed. We have got to make sure that whoever comes in is the right person for Leinster. Leinster are a certain way.
"Obviously you have to be a strong person to deal with all the hard times you get with guys either coming in or out. I'm sure they will get the right person in and whoever makes that job, they have got an outstanding group of players to work with."
Gopperth will always cherish the Pro12 medal he picked up in his first season at Leinster and believes he gave everything he could to the cause.
"You always think you can give a big more and be better," he said. "I wish I'd hit the drop goal in Treviso away and in Toulon . . . we'd be in the final, those little things.
"But, look, every time I put on the blue jersey I tried to give my best, wore my heart on my sleeve and it didn't matter, I tried to play for Leinster as if it was my home team, as if I had been there for years. If people could see that, it makes me happy."