It feels like a very long time since I even thought about rugby. For the first time in what feels like forever, we got a small break from the game. A game to refresh, recharge and re-evaluate. Hopefully Leinster took the time to do that too.
A lot happened last season. A new coach in the Great Leo Cullen, an unsettled team and a crowd of supporters unsure how to deal with transition. Leo was always going to coach the province he captained for so long. I just don’t think it was due to happen so soon. Matt O’Connor didn’t see out his contract and he just wasn’t the right fit for Leinster. By all accounts the players really liked him, but the results and style of play just didn’t suit. Leo was fast tracked in a few years ahead of plan. He took the opportunity with both hands and it galvanised the team. Along with recent returns of talisman Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton it looked like a season of bounce back was on the cards.
I am forgetting about Europe last year. That was a step too far for a new coach trying to bring in a new way of doing things in THAT group. The play against Toulon in game 2 was very good and Leinster really should have won that, but aside from the second Toulon match there wasn’t much to write home about. Again, that is not the issue from last season.
Moving into the league, the atmosphere was a bit dour in the usual upbeat RDS. The beginning of last season was a rollercoaster, opening with a loss to Edinburgh and then losing another couple of games that really should have been won. The game plan was taking affect slowly, the players where responding, but it was going to take time.
Moving to the business end of the season, the game plan that had been coming in appeared to disintegrate. The semi-final win against Ulster was a walk for Leinster. Ulster have become Clermont in European rugby, they just don’t believe they can win a semi-final. As long as that is the case, teams like Leinster will walk through them. The 30-18 score line suggested this. At the time I wanted struggle, a game that pushed and tested Leinster because Connacht where going to be monsters in the final.
That is exactly what happened. In the final Leinster where about as passive as I was during my leaving cert. They allowed Connacht run on to them and everything went through J10. No variation in the plan and maybe a bit of arrogance?
But that leads us to this season. There have been some exits, Ian Madigan did what he had to do after being treated terribly by Leinster and there were a few other serious exits. Now the backup for Sexton will be 1 of the two academy 10’s along with new signing James Gibson. This is the time for them to step up. The signing of Robbie Henshaw is absolutely massive. He can play 12 or 13, and would complement and lead Ringrose further into becoming the player we all think he will be. The break has done the whole organisation a great thing. Reorganisation is key. McQuilkin has gone home which is the main hole in the team. He will be replaces ASAP.
The buzz coming out of the team is sounding great. Some of the long term injuries are coming back to fitness. Cian Healy must be starving for some action after the long layoff. Sean O’Brien is to come back. The international players will be back earlier this year than usual. It is all positive for Leinster.
The team should expect and work towards being in the final in the Aviv….Lansdowne Road. It is time to get back into the thick of it in Europe. An improvement on last year is an absolute necessity, aiming at a quarter final is a good return this year.
As usual @nkeegan for more.