Hunger To Put Things Right Top of Agenda
Published 15/05/2015 | 02:30
With awards season in full flow, it is hard to escape the fact that there haven't been too many Leinster Rugby players dining at the top table this year and ahead of the Guinness Pro12 awards on Sunday that isn't likely to change.
In recent weeks Matt O'Connor, Jamie Heaslip, Shane Jennings and a host of others have all voiced the same opinion. Not good enough.
Leinster second-row Tom Denton isn't going to change the script now.
"When you see the Pro12 team of the season announced as it was last week and there isn't a single Leinster name in there, it is a bit strange. Of course individual honours aren't the be all and end all but it is just another stark reflection of how our season has gone on a domestic level. We haven't had that consistency of performance in the Pro12, have left points out there and you can't do that and expect to be in the mix.
"Even look at last year. Noel Reid was nominated for a Young Player of the Year award in the Pro12. First game of this season against Glasgow he does his ankle. And that's been the same for most of the lads. Everyone set their goals at the start of the year. You want to kick on but injuries at crucial times have robbed us of lads and it's taken its toll."
The chance to recharge though isn't that far away. Despite finishing up this weekend the squad will keep training until the end of May before taking the month of June off.
"We'll be back in the first week in July and that makes it fairly straightforward in terms of planning out the season and your summer as well. I've a few long weekends planned with the lads and with my girlfriend but ultimately it's just about getting that break."
How difficult is it though to do just that? It hasn't exactly been the easiest of seasons for those within the Leinster Rugby team.
"It's very easy," he laughs, "but you have to be able to do that. The season is all-consuming and you are very focused for so long on the next game or the next job so when you do get that time away it's vital to refresh the mind as much as the body."
Will it be difficult to compartmentalise, to leave this season behind?
"In a way you can't do that because we have to learn from this season. We have to take the pain of this season with us but channel it in a positive manner. The pain we feel now at not being involved in Pro12 Play-offs or being involved in Twickenham a few weeks ago. That has to motivate. You would then hope that another win against Edinburgh allows us to finish the season on a high and to take that positivity into next season. It doesn't mask what has gone before but if you lose you would tend to stew more over the summer."
Edinburgh at 3pm tomorrow promises to be a stern test and whether or not the Leinster players stew or not is very much in the balance.
"Last year they beat us narrowly over there in terrible conditions. They've beaten Ospreys and Glasgow this year at home and as we all know those two teams are flying it at the moment. So we know that we need to front up and perform because they've still got Champions Cup qualification on their minds."
Denton will start on the bench in BT Murrayfield but is reasonably happy with his impact in what is his third season with Leinster since his arrival from Leeds.
He said: "I think I started the season quite well" - indeed he did, a try in the first game of the season away to Glasgow - "but then like other lads I picked up an injury or two. So I missed out on a few games but then was back in when the lads were away during the Autumn Internationals. Then another niggle. And then finally a random bicep injury that ruled me out of the Toulon game at a time when I was getting a bit of form and game time."
It wasn't easy watching from home as Leinster went toe-to-toe with the reigning champions for 100 minutes and next season they'll have to do it without Messrs Jennings and D'Arcy. Jennings in particular had a huge impact on a 24-year-old Denton arriving into Leinster.
"He's incredible. Just immediately he took me to one side and spoke to me about Leinster. About what was expected, about the culture, about the drive, about what it was to wear that jersey.
"And then Jenno was different because he then acted out everything that he said and spoke to you about. He lived it every day. He'd be the first player in, always positive and he'd sometimes be the last guy to leave. He drove everyone so hard and for us in the forwards we saw more of him I suppose in the meetings and stuff and when he spoke you listened and you took it in. He'd inspire you to be like him one day as a young player coming in.
"All things being equal, that's the last we see of Darce as well. It would be great for him to get the send-off he deserves at a final World Cup. He's been a brilliant servant for Leinster and Ireland. They will both be missed and it will be very strange wishing them well for the last time in a few weeks."
Coaching Neither Jennings nor D'Arcy have any immediate plans of stepping into a coaching slot but Leo Cullen stepped straight into his coaching tracksuit and Denton has liked what he has seen.
"When you look at what Leo has brought to the table this season, he has been really good and for me personally as a second-row you couldn't ask for a better mentor. He's helped my understanding of the game and helped me work on my calls. The transition has been very smooth from Leo the player to coach."
Nine months ago it was all ahead of them. All to play for. Now with one game to go and with Champions Cup qualification secure, it would be easy to be down but Denton can see the positive.
"I think the season just gone could yet be a huge positive. It's hard to think like that at the moment but you have to have the bad days to enjoy the good. In my three seasons here this is the first time experiencing this sort of end-of-season run-in.
"The supporters expect better, the players expect better, the coaches expect better. It's up to us all to ensure that we're not in a similar position next season."