Monday 26 September 2016

We're a better team than this time last year, insists Heaslip

Leinster No 8 believes that improvements have been made - despite run of poor results in Europe

Published 15/12/2015 | 02:30

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip says they are a better team now than they were this time last year
Leinster's Jamie Heaslip says they are a better team now than they were this time last year

A year is a long time in sport and when Leinster sit down and look back at their position this time 12 months ago, they must surely wonder how they have fallen so short.

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The calls for Matt O'Connor's head hadn't quite reached a crescendo and with nine points and just one defeat from their first three Champions Cup pool games, there was at least some cause for optimism. Fast-forward to now, and under Leo Cullen, Leinster have a single point, have lost all three games and with Toulon arriving in town this weekend, there isn't much to be getting excited about.

Jamie Heaslip isn't usually one to look back on times gone by but, as he briefly allowed himself to reflect on where Leinster are now compared to last year, he firmly believes that his side are a better team.

Their dismal points return in Europe would suggest otherwise but Heaslip was keen to point to another statistic.

"Yeah I do think we have improved," the No 8 insisted at yesterday's launch of the GOAL Mile.

"Actually the stats are showing that we are holding onto the ball more, that we are retaining the ball for longer periods and I think when we do that, that's when we really put pressure on other teams.

"That's the way rugby is going, that the good teams are the teams that are able to hold onto the ball, keep playing and just break you down; not with any fancy moves but literally just wear you down.

"I think Leo and Girv (Dempsey) have brought some really good, imaginative play and us as players have to execute better at times."

From the outside looking in, there does appear to be some degree of responsibility being taken by the players but the main issue for them is that the results in Europe show no sign of improving and it is now not inconceivable for Leinster to go through the entire campaign without picking up a win.

Chief among their concerns must be the form of Johnny Sexton but Heaslip deflected any sort of criticism away from the out-half while at the same time, acknowledged that Ian Madigan was probably frustrated not to have played for more than three minutes.

"I don't think that's fair to say that about Johnny, and it wouldn't be on my position to comment regarding Ian," Heaslip said.

"Players want to play, regardless of whether they're on the field, off the field, injured. They just want to play. Frustration comes in all shapes and forms for players throughout your career. These are just things you've got to deal with, and get on with.

"People are obviously upset. We've put ourselves in the position where qualification is out of our hands. It depends on other games now for us, regardless if we go forward and win all our games. To be in that position is frustrating. A lot of people are annoyed with how we've let the supporters down."

Come Saturday evening at the Aviva Stadium, Heaslip will be fuelled by the desire to restore some pride back into the jersey but there is already a sense that Leinster's attentions are beginning to turn to the Pro12.

"We realise how important the league is; we felt that to our detriment at the end of last season where after the Six Nations it was a hard push to get qualification and how important the league is.

"Then you have to take a focus on Europe. It's a bit of a mixed bag of emotions and rollercoasters that way.

"It's funny, I was sitting beside Cian (Healy) and Jack (McGrath) coming home on Sunday and we were chatting about how really excited we were to have another crack at these guys (Toulon). They are a very good side, don't get me wrong, but they are very beatable. We'll have a go at it again."

Toulon may well be 'beatable' but Leinster have failed to manage it in each of the last three seasons. There isn't much to suggest that another defeat isn't a matter of days away.

Irish Independent

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