Tuesday 20 August 2019

George Hook: There's no discernible plan of attack under this head coach

Leinster's Fergus McFadden, Rhys Ruddock, Jack McGrath and Dominic Ryan leave the pitch after their Champions Cup defeat
Leinster's Fergus McFadden, Rhys Ruddock, Jack McGrath and Dominic Ryan leave the pitch after their Champions Cup defeat

George Hook

Leinster's defeat by Bath on Saturday has ended their interest in the European Rugby Champions Cup for this season and serious questions must now be asked about the direction the team is taking.

The jaded rhetoric from the players and coach in the run-up to kick-off proved as empty and dour as the tone it was delivered in, and the week-long insistence that there would be a "reaction" to the Wasps defeat proved hollow.

Overall, the performance was an improvement on the shambles at the RDS, but it was still some way short of the required standard for a victory that would have kept their tournament hopes alive. Now, after just two rounds of European competition, Leinster have nothing to play for.

The starting XV selection was predictable, if wholly uninspiring. That Isaac Boss continues to come under serious consideration at scrum half is a testament to Leo Cullen's conservatism. Boss's delivery was slow and pedestrian, and it cost Leinster vital seconds in space and possession.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen

The introduction of Luke McGrath midway through the second half immediately changed Leinster's attack for the better. Boss wasn't helped by the poor performance of his pack, but McGrath added instant purpose to Leinster's play when he came on. Why is it taking so long for this hugely talented player to be handed a regular starting berth?

McGrath, like Garry Ringrose, has been earmarked for superstardom since he first broke into the Ireland underage set-up. He is lightening quick and full of aggression, yet he continues to find himself behind Boss and Eoin Reddan in the pecking order. It beggars belief. Ringrose did not even make the bench on Saturday.

Leinster's problems at the breakdown against Wasps carried over to the Rec, where Francois Louw had a field day on the ground. Too many times Leinster were just going through the motions at rucks, allowing Bath to get in over the ball and disrupt Leinster possession. Jamie Heaslip was anonymous yet again.

Can we put the ridiculous notion that Heaslip is Ireland captain material to bed? His petulance in front of the media after the Wasps defeat was embarrassing. Joe Schmidt would be better served looking elsewhere for a successor to Paul O'Connell.

Bath's Kyle Eastmond is tackled by Jamie Heaslip
Bath's Kyle Eastmond is tackled by Jamie Heaslip

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The lack of commitment and intensity from Leinster in all areas on Saturday was baffling. This was a season-defining game, yet the players failed to raise their standards accordingly.

The scrum was a mess with Cian Healy and Mike Ross consistently bullied by Nick Auterac and Henry Thomas in the front row. The penalty count against Leinster was not the sole responsibility of the two props, with Devin Toner spectacularly ineffective in the set-piece, but it is worrying when two first-choice internationals cannot hold up a scrum.

That the introduction of Jack McGrath and Martin Moore made no discernible difference only served to reinforce Toner's ineptness in the second row. The penalty try in the second half was just reward for Bath's dominance.

White-line fever suffocated Leinster's adventures into the Bath 22. A prime attacking position was wasted before half-time when Ben Te'o chose to cut back inside, rather then feed any one of three Leinster team mates screaming for the ball outside him.

The result was a dropped ball, a scrum for Bath and a penalty against Leinster at the set-piece.

That squandered opportunity typified Leinster's afternoon and it is a damning indictment of Cullen's spell in charge this season. The composure and patience in possession that were hallmarks of Schmidt's time in charge have all but evaporated. Under Cullen, there is no discernible plan of attack.

Jonathan Sexton, Leinster
Jonathan Sexton, Leinster

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the last two defeats has been the tame manner in which Leinster have been turned over. With all due respect to Wasps and Bath, there are far more talented outfits in the Champions Cup this season. That Leinster couldn't deal with either speaks volumes about how far this team has fallen. One shudders to think what Toulon will do to them in the back-to-back fixtures next month.

Perhaps it is time for a root-and-branch reform? Why not bring in some of the younger faces over the next few weeks and start a rebuilding process? There is always room for experience in such a transition, but the likes of Luke McGrath, Ringrose and Josh van der Flier - who made an instant impact with a superb try on Saturday - deserve a chance to break into the starting XV.

This season is already a write-off. Will the Leinster crowd vote with their feet and abandon the RDS as the season continues? If the senior players continue to just go through the motions, it would be daft to expect supporters to hand over their hard-earned cash to watch more sterile performances.

And, if attendance figures do drop off, maybe those responsible for putting a director of rugby with no previous experience in charge will begin to ask serious questions of themselves.

This is a business, after all.

After the last two weeks, share interest in Leinster Rugby is on the floor.

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