Sunday 21 January 2018

Leinster coach expects players to ignore French speculation ahead of crunch game

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor


Leinster coach Matt O’Connor expects his players to put the speculation surrounding Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip's futures to one side and perform in Castres this Sunday.

The duo are in the midst of discussions over their long-term future with Toulon showing serious interest in both, but the Australian former Leicester coach does not believe that it will distract Heaslip or any of his teammates come the weekend.

There was positive news on the injury front where Rhys Ruddock and Aaron Dundon appear to have shrugged off their injuries, while Fergus McFadden should come into contention for next week’s home game against the Ospreys.

Defeat to Northampton Saints at home in round four means that Leinster face a simple task to ensure they reach the quarter-finals – win their two remaining games.

And although it dominated the discussion for most of their pre-match press briefing at UCD yesterday, O’Connor does not believe that the transfer speculation will be an issue.

“It is part of the professional game,” he said. “It is probably not as high profile mostly (elsewhere) and it probably doesn’t drag on for as long, but those distractions are always there in a professional environment and it is something everyone cracks on with and doesn’t really distract anybody from what the task at hand is.

“The last two or three years it has probably become a bigger issue because that’s where the marquee signings go and where the big money is.  If you go back five or six years it wasn’t uncommon, the teams in the southern hemisphere deal with it, the teams in England deal with it – it’s not particularly isolated to Ireland, it’s just the way the global market’s gone.”

Castres are expected to be without their key South African born duo Antonie Claasen and Rory Kockott for the game the Top 14 champions need to win to have any chance of qualifying from Pool 1.

We’ve got to make sure that we’re accurate. We weren’t particularly disappointed with how we played against them at the RDS, we were pretty happy with that performance and result.

We’d be looking to replicate that, but they’re a good side, they’re Top 14 champions, they have a good record and they have a fantastic squad. We’ll have to make sure we bring a top shelf performance.

“They’re massive for them, Kockott gives them so much, kicks all of their goals and Claasen leads the forward pack so well, he’s a threat with the ball and at the base,” O’Connor said.

“That will change the dynamics a little bit (if they’re out), but they’ve got a good squad, with good players across the whole group so we’ll just have to make those adjustments when we know who is and isn’t playing

“It’s about making sure that we execute and put them under pressure. If we can do that, there are opportunities to score tries but it is probably going to be more about grinding out a result than three or four try victory.

“It is about making sure that all of the tiny little bits, the basics, the kick chase,  the defence – all of those are going to have to be spot on.”

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