Saturday 20 January 2018

We haven't been good enough - O'Connor

Matt O’Connor is determined to get Leinster back to level expected of them (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)
Matt O’Connor is determined to get Leinster back to level expected of them (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)
Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip, with a model of 'Superman', on his arrival to the LauraLynn Children's Hospice (Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE)
David Kelly

David Kelly

Off the field, Matt O'Connor got what those in the trade would regard as a bit of a 'shoeing' last month.

The IRFU's big hitters - double Six Nations winning coach Joe Schmidt and performance director David Nucifora - were not backwards in coming forward to lambast the Leinster coach's lamentations about the player welfare system imposed from on high.

Both men produced a raft of statistics to roundly refute any claims from Leinster - who regularly provide 20 or more players to the national team - that they were hard done by.

If this indeed were a ruck on the field of play, by the time both men were finished there wasn't a shred of jersey left upon O'Connor's back.

Presumably, both men also have deigned to deliver their deliberations behind closed doors to O'Connor who, after all, is also an IRFU employee, as well as the coach who spends more time than any other with those players.

The affable Australian was keeping resolutely tight-lipped on the matter yesterday, claiming that no such talks had taken place, while he also said that he doesn't read the papers - print or online.

So, it seems, he hasn't heard what the big bosses had to say. It's a communications and relationship breakdown of farcical proportions.

It's a rum job but then again, O'Connor and his men have enough to be worried about given their perilous position in the Pro12 as they seek the six points required to avoid potential exclusion from next season's Champions Cup.


Of course, Leinster wouldn't be in this position and at loggerheads with their bosses were their Pro12 form not so poor; assistant coach Leo Cullen suggested this week that the club "had not got their head about managing their resources."

Surprisingly, or maybe not, O'Connor demurs when questioned as to whether there may have been a grain of truth in his assistant's thesis.

"Probably not," he said. "I think we were impacted on a little bit by injury. That changes the dynamic and there are some key learnings for us that we will look at and try and get into how we approach those periods next year."

Hence, when O'Connor was directly asked how Leinster suffered so badly this year compared to previous years when Leinster - as Schmidt so helpfully pointed out - were much more successful in the regular season, the Australian pointed to three factors.

"The three things are probably under-performance, meritocracy and injuries," said O'Connor.

"The injury profile that we've had this year, the increase in the stakes relative to meritocracy and then we've been below-par at stages, which has cost us points.

"That's from Glasgow game one, a couple of games against Munster, a couple of games against Dragons, there's periods along the way where we haven't been good enough.

"Then you stick on top of that an increase in the intensity of the league and a significantly higher injury profile, it changes the dynamics.

"The positive bit is that we've got a very good group of coaches and players. All the tools are there to fix it.

"The challenge is making sure we're better moving forward and we get the results everyone expects.

"The things that get talked about are quite humorous at stages. There's no magic formula.

"The lads prepare and train and play as hard as they can every week. To suggest there are different levels of motivation at different stages of the season is a little false. The players and coaches work really hard every week to prepare to put out a performance. That is the reality of it.

"Sometimes it's as good as you want it to be. Other times it is a little indifferent and other times it's not good enough.

"That's what we've done this week. We've narrowed the focus. We know the stakes. We want to be really good (against Treviso) and we think we owe it to the fans and we owe it to the lads that are moving on."

Those in the camp who dared to submit to the torture would have watched last weekend's Champions Cup final with strangely mixed emotions.

Leinster could easily have been contesting the decider. As it is, they are desperately scrambling just to qualify for the competition.

"There was a hell of a lot of frustration last Saturday given had things been a little bit different we could have been there," said O'Connor.

"That's where we want to be. You want to be on the biggest stages possible and fighting for silverware.

"It was disappointing but it gives us a little bit of confidence off the back of the continuity that we have had over this period with Bath and Toulon and the preparation that the lads have done to make sure we put in top performances. That gives us a lot of confidence going in to these last two games."


Should Leinster falter this weekend and against Edinburgh next week, a one-off winner-takes-all-clash will beckon against Challenge Cup winners Gloucester in front of their rabid Kingsholm faithful following this week's Champions Cup play-off draw.

"We did spot that, yeah," said O'Connor. "It doesn't change anything. We've got to make sure we win (tonight) and make sure we win in Edinburgh and if we do that then our destiny is firmly in our own hands."

Presumably the IRFU would allow their front-line players to feature, as in normal circumstances Leinster might, like Munster and Ulster, usually be among the play-off contenders at the top end of the table.

Mindful of current controversies, O'Connor was understandably reticent. "I haven't had that conversation yet," he said.

"If you break it down into the two competitions we're in," he added, "there were some huge positives in Europe. We demonstrated that we can certainly compete with the best in Europe which people had doubted.

"If you look at the Pro12, incredibly disappointing. We'll look at that post-season and make sure that we put the things in place that we can fix very quickly for next season."

How quickly remains to be seen.

Irish Independent

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