Credit Schmidt for Blues' resurgence
THE reverberations in the aftermath of Leinster's performance against Clermont will no doubt continue in to the New Year. It was as close to a complete performance that I have seen by any Irish side in the last 10 years.
And no, I am not exaggerating. Playing with Leinster under Matt Williams there were many memorable games – the pace and intensity of some were similar to the one witnessed last weekend – but how rare has it been that we have seen so many Irish players play with such self-belief, unleashing their natural abilities with confidence and immense aggression to boot.
Hindsight is a great thing. Many of us, I’m sure, would want to turn back the clock in relation to many aspects of our lives; at this time of year we often get the chance to take a chance to look back and reflect.
I have no regrets about the past, but I will not deny that it took me a while to get to that point. Ultimately, I have come to the conclusion that I would probably not be enjoying the career that I enjoy now had I not gone through the ups and downs that I went through in my rugby career.
Who knows, maybe I would not feel the need to give back to the game in the way that I am trying to do now. However, I cannot help but think how much more Leinster, and more pertinently Ireland, would have achieved in the past number of years with the talent at their disposal had they played such an all-round game.
Watching the game last Saturday, where the public could finally see many of this generation playing to the peak of their powers, must have warmed the hearts.
Unfortunately, it was more of a rare treat rather than a weekly indulgence throughout the noughties.
It is the type of game that I always hoped that coaches of teams that I was involved with would empower us as players to play. Most of the time an overbearing structure took precedent. Looking back, one thinks ‘what a pity’, but as I stated at the outset: no regrets. In the light of last week I thought that this was all worth mentioning as I have never watched Leinster play with such a large smile on my face. I am personally delighted for all the players who I played with who must feel like they are getting a second wind with the new coach’s approach – because it is undoubtedly an enjoyable way to play this great game.
Joe Schmidt has to take credit for what he has done with his team. He has given his players, some of whom are approaching the twilight of their careers, a new lease of life. He is helping to cement good habits in the younger generation and a template that will hopefully be around with them and others that come through the system for many years.
Whatever happens for the rest of the season I will not be taking any of these words back. As I have alluded to before, there is only one way to play the modern game and the Blues are getting darn close to it.
As supporters continue to indulge in the season’s treats, the players will have barely begun to digest the Christmas pudding before they are back on the road to Belfast. With a quick thaw forecast over the weekend, the match looks like one to look forward to as both teams are riding high after excellent results in Europe. Ravenhill is always a tough place to go but Leinster, with some good recent success up North, will fancy their chances of getting a win.
Conditions should dictate the away side’s approach. It will be important for Schmidt and his men to adapt by playing smartly, but one would hope the same philosophy will under-pin any changes that would have to be made in relation to the weather on the day. It should be a close one, but from Leinster we would like to see more of the sam