Friday 24 November 2017

Matt O'Connor not worried about his job as Leinster prepare for 'Real Madrid of rugby'

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Offices, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Offices, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

MATT O’CONNOR says speculation over his future is “irrelevant” ahead of Leinster’s Champions Cup semi-final against Toulon on Sunday.

The under-fire coach has come in for vocal criticism from frustrated fans, but is not worried about his future as he prepares his team for what he described “as big a game as Leinster's ever had”.

The three-time European champions have endured a frustrating campaign to date, but are the last Irish team standing in this year’s competition.

However, last week’s defeat to the Newport Gwent Dragons leaves them on the verge of missing out on the Guinness Pro12 play-offs for the first time and O’Connor is being blamed by a contingent of fans for that disappointing league performance.

“You take no notice of it is the reality. We spend all of our time creating an environment where there are no obstacles, no excuses and we work very hard - staff and players - to deliver a performance,” O’Connor said.

“It's irrelevant. The noise outside the environment makes no difference to us inside the environment.”

Captain Jamie Healsip echoed his coach’s sentiments,  saying the players fully support their coach ahead of their biggest game of the season and must take responsibility for their league performance.

“Speaking from personal experience, people called for my contract to be ripped up in the past as well. I would take absolutely no notice of it, Matt's got the full support of the squad and he's done some great things over the last two seasons,” the No8 said.

“As players, we've been pretty disappointed with some games - especially last week, that's not the standard that the group of players set for ourselves but outside of that I'm not listening.”

Leinster's Jamie Heaslip during a press conference at Leinster Rugby Offices, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE

Leinster will be without Australia lock Kane Douglas for the rest of the season as he needs an operation on his injured back, while Shane Jennings is unlikely to be fit to face Toulon as he is still showing concussive symptoms after suffering a head injury against Dragons.

Although the European champions have not been at their best so far this season, O’Connor warned against reading too much into their recent performances.

“One of the big mistakes we made last year was looking at their form,” he said.

“The reality of it was that we had a lot of guys coming back off the Six Nations, having just beaten France, so we were probably a bit confident that we could go down there off the back of that victory and, looking at Toulon's form, we were in a pretty good frame of mind in relation of what we could deliver.

“The reality of that was that Toulon we're 20, 30, 40pc better than that had been at any time last season and we know the class they've got in their roster, we know they've got world class players in every position and we know we're preparing for a battle that's going to be as big a game as Leinster's ever had and we'll see where we end up at the end of it.

“Last year gives you a bit of familiarity, it helps you understand the ins into the game from which you can leverage opportunity, but at the end of the day it will come down to big moments and tiny, tiny margins and hopefully we're on the right side of those.”

Heaslip said the players are relishing a go against the “Real Madrid of rugby”.

“I don't play to come second, there's 40 odd lads down there who have the same mentality, but outcome and result comes off the back of work, of doing your job and the team making the least possible amount of mistakes which is a knock-on from doing your job and being disciplined around that,” he said.

“They're kind of the things that I would be focused on, it helps to take away from the pressure and lets you focus on one thing, one moment at a time and especially on an occasion like this, a semi-final with a packed house, a great occasion you don't want to be swept up in that.

“That's where experience kicks in, they have plenty of that as well with God knows how many international caps they have and the experience they have but those occasions are the days when you go back to what you know and goes back to what you practice day in, day out; week in, week out and knowing the plays that you put together so it's automatic that you can go out and just play.

“There's no better occasion than facing the defending champions in their backyard.”

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