Thursday 19 September 2019

Skipping Leinster game proved a wise decision

Leo Cullen
Leo Cullen
Neil Francis

Neil Francis

On a weekend when the criminally insane attempted to infract on the personal freedoms and liberty that we in the West take for granted, I chose to exercise my personal freedoms on a less grand scale.

I chose not to watch Leinster play live on Sunday. I knew they would lose but 6-33 was a bit adrift of what I had envisaged.

I have written some negative stuff on my home province in the last two years - much of it justified. They had become hard to watch. Winning ugly had become a metaphor for 'we've run out of ideas.' After Matt O'Connor took over in the 2012-2013 season the team, in the period September/December, still managed to play the way Joe Schmidt had got them to play.

It would take more than six months to prove the old chestnut that you don't become a bad team overnight. They eventually turned from a brilliant team into a good team and last season became a mediocre team.

O'Connor is gone but these rugby franchises take a while to turn around. We are not sure that things won't get worse before they get better. Have patience, I suppose, all things are difficult before they become easy.

So on Sunday I went for brunch in town instead of watching the match in the RDS. Watch it later on Sky Plus when you know the result.

I ended up in Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street thumbing my way through some of the recent rugby biographies on offer. The old adage 'when you have nothing to say - say nothing' came to mind. I don't think I should comment anymore!


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From behind a bookcase this guy in blue nods to me and asks, 'what are you doing here?' I shrugged and asked him the same question. "What's the score?" I asked. "23-6 to Wasps." "Is that the final score?" I enquired. "No, I left with 20 to go."

As I left I mumbled something to him about being patient.

Lewis Carroll once said: "If you don't know where you are going - any road will get you there." I think Leo Cullen has a fair idea of where he is going and where he wants to bring his team. So, six months will give us a reasonable indication. Anthony Foley has done a reasonable job with Munster. Yes, the Glasgow Warriors did a job on them in the Pro12 final but Gregor Townsend has had a four-year hop, skip and a jump to get them where they wanted to be. Townsend had definite ideas about how he wanted his team to play. Glasgow are a reflection of their coach's persona. Ditto Foley and Munster.

So this is going to be a fallow season and for this squad patience is not the ability to wait but how you act while you wait. Sometimes you do not know what a season or the span of a week can bring. We had some genius telling us a few months ago that Ireland were gearing their run in the World Cup to peak in the quarter-final! Sheesh!

There are certain things that Cullen has to maintain within the squad - things that took well over a decade to cultivate. Things that Leinster probably have taken for granted and haven't worked on in the last year or two. They are not as smart a team as they used to be. Their skill-set is nowhere near where it should be - passing the most obvious.

Somebody told me recently that he had gone to see the All Blacks in five of their World Cup games. During the half-time break they would come out six or seven minutes early and practice their passing in wide lines. There were no passes down and more importantly all the passes went accurately in front of the receiver. Leinster have to practice their passing. It is not good enough anymore.

We look for a change in direction from Leinster. Everybody has been beating a drum about off-loading. And the two best teams at it in Europe happen to be Toulon (Top 14 and Champions Cup holders) and Glasgow (Pro12 champs). The World Cup winners were masters at it and so were Australia and the team that out-performed - Argentina - were pretty handy at it too.

So for any change in culture you have got to do it because you want to, not because you feel you have to. I feel that most teams in Europe have a positive read on what Leinster do. There were about 10 things that Leinster attempted last Sunday that were executed poorly and read easily. One moment summed it up when Sexton attempted one of his trademark loops and George Smith read it so easy that he pushed the in-front player out of the way and tackled Sexton behind the play.

We assume that Leinster will maintain their appetite and a hard edge up front but they have fallen behind in their ability to find space.

However, they still have leadership in the key areas. When these players get over their World Cup torpor they will have an advantage over most sides.

Looking at Munster last Saturday you realised the yawning chasm that Paul O'Connell and the injured Peter O'Mahony leave when they are gone. Munster, despite their redoubtable heritage and pedigree, have no leaders. CJ Stander possesses positive qualities but has limited rugby intellect and his leadership is out of the 'do as I do' handbook.

The transition for Leinster can be less painful than it needs to be because they have leadership. The new coach has not to move with the times but move ahead of the times to get back to where they need to be.

Leinster will have to post some extraordinary performances between now and Christmas to be in the shake-up. Lose to Bath this Saturday and they are out!

This pool section is now about perfecting a brand of rugby that will give them a chance next year and that will give them a chance to win the Pro 12 in 2016.

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