Friday 20 April 2018

'Flat Leinster will lift game when it matters'

Leinster 15 Edinburgh 13

Rob Kearney, Leinster, jumps over a ruck as he is tackled by Alex Toolis, Edinburgh. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Rob Kearney, Leinster, jumps over a ruck as he is tackled by Alex Toolis, Edinburgh. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Cian Healy, Leinster, is tackled by Tomas Leonardi, Edinburgh. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Seán O'Brien, Leinster, is tackled by Andries Strauss, left, and Ross Ford, Edinburgh
Leinster's Brian O'Driscoll after the match against Edinburgh at the RDS Arena
Dave Kearney, Leinster, scores his side's second try
Rob Kearney, Leinster, breaks through the tackle of Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
Leo Cullen, Leinster, supported by team-mate Seán O'Brein, is tackled by Ross Ford, left, and Dimitri Basilaia, Edinburgh
Jordi Murphy, Leinster, goes over to score his side's first try with the support of team-mate Rhys Ruddock despite the tackle of Greig Laidlaw, Edinburgh
David Kelly

David Kelly

If ever there was a demonstration of the minute difference between a well-aimed kick up the posterior and a congratulatory slap on the back, then this was it.

Like the weather, the occasion featured much that was bleak and uninteresting, punctured by only occasional shafts of sunlight.

Jimmy Gopperth neatly summed up a match that, only moments after it had concluded, was being rushed to global laboratories as a potential solution to insomnia.

"It was probably the kick up the bum we needed," said the straight-talking, straight-shooting Kiwi after the ugly win.

There was a hell of a lot of back-slapping from the Leinster supporters towards their imminently departing pair of heroes, Leo Cullen and Brian O'Driscoll, who were each feted on-field after the final whistle.


Nothing in the previous 80 minutes had moved the crowd to such paroxysms of delight, though, and perhaps that was the problem; the whole occasion had an end-of-term feel, with events on hold until the real business recommences against Ulster here this Saturday.

"It was a flat performance," said coach Matt O'Connor, dismissing any idea that the retirement show was off-putting. "That's not a focus for us. It's the broader community and the general public that create the interest in it.

"It wasn't mentioned all week by any of the players or staff. It was another game. There's going to be a lot of emotion around those blokes leaving because of what they've given the province."

For all the ennui about Leinster's style of play this season, their results in Pro12 competition brook little argument; they have conceded vastly fewer tries than last year's leaky side and their points total trumps most recent table-toppers.

At one stage during Saturday's dirge, though, they trailed Edinburgh, a side of vast ordinariness, losing control of their top seeding; it all curiously mirrored the perception of O'Connor's side as teetering between the terrific and the tedious all term.

Supporters will demand a trophy, as O'Connor affirms.

"It's a tricky one because we knew we had to get a result," said O'Connor; the charge of his counterpart, Alan Solomons, that Leinster ran down the clock at the end, was most damning.

"We probably wanted it to be a little easier than it was early on and we got caught out. We knew we needed to beat them to get the home semi-final.

"Things didn't go our way, we had three or four scoring chances we didn't take. If you take them, their enthusiasm might wane and it turns into a different contest.

"A season is never going to be a success if you don't win something. That's what the blokes in the environment try to put themselves into a position to do every day. We're under no illusions about what they and the environment expects.

"They know what's required. It's a tough game against Ulster and that's all we're focused on. We want to be at home. We've given ourselves the best chance by ending up as top of the league thanks to our consistency. But knockout rugby is about ensuring you put out the performance when it matters. And that happens next week."

As Gopperth echoed: "That's why people play for Leinster. To win trophies. Unfortunately we missed out on the big prize. But this is probably even more as it is for the region. The Pro12 is our grassroots."

After Jordi Murphy's first-half try failed to eke out a half-time lead, bookended as the half was by Greig Laidlaw penalties, it took Dave Kearney's superb line from Gopperth's delivery to break the Scottish resistance, despite a late Tim Visser rebuttal that typified Leinster's mental and physical laziness.

"We tried to pull it off against Ulster before," smiled Gopperth of the game's briefest inventive interlude.

"Everyone does that move if it opens up. Tonight was an attitude thing, just a little off our ball. Not physical enough. They threw everything at us."

Leinster can throw a bit more of themselves now, too, particularly with the significant twin boost of adding Fergus McFadden and Sean O'Brien to their ranks, O'Connor confirming their early returns from injury are like the proverbial new signings.

"It was an opportunity for them to play some rugby, give them their chance to get selected in the remaining games," said O'Connor, albeit he will be robbed of Richardt Strauss and Mike McCarthy.

"They were a bit rusty. What Joe (Schmidt) does with them, I don't know. They were very comfortable with the fact that Sean was going to play again, that we had ticked all the boxes in relation to making sure his shoulder was 100pc. He didn't have any issues with his shoulders, he was alright and he will feature next week.


"It's a really positive boost for the group. He brings so much intensity to training, the blokes love having him in the training ground because of the way he plays the game. He drives the rest of them to get the best out of themselves."

And, speaking of depth, it was interesting to hear visiting coach Solomons, once of Ulster, suggest that Zane Kirchner – a late withdrawal from full-back with a pulled muscle – could succeed O'Driscoll at 13.

"Zane is a very, very good footballer," said the 64-year-old, who coached Ulster between 2001 and 2004. He's a very good rugby player, he's hard, he's physical, he's tough, he's intelligent, he's experienced. He would have to have a crack there and see how that goes, he's a good enough rugby player to do it."

That's next season's work; next week's task is all that must occupy Leinster. "This will sharpen our minds," observed O'Connor. His team will need to sharpen up, too.

Leinster – R Kearney (B Macken 62); F McFadden, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy (I Madigan 64), D Kearney; J Gopperth, I Boss; J McGrath (C Healy 53), R Strauss (S Cronin 12), M Ross (M Moore 53), L Cullen (capt) (R Ruddock 55), M McCarthy (L McGrath 78), S O'Brien (D Ryan 52), J Murphy, J Heaslip.

Edinburgh – C Bezuidenhout (P Francis 71); S Beard (G Hart 3), M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; H Leonard, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford (J Hilterbrand 64), W Nel (S Berghan 65), G Gilchrist, B Toolis (A Toolis 59), M Coman, T Leonardi, D Denton (D Basilaia 27).

Ref – L Hodges (WRU).

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