Sitting here at my desk, a week ago I thought I would be writing a very different post to the one that will appear, as if by magic, below.
Leinster came into the business end of the season in fine form. Inventive, tough and confident. Sweeping most aside for the season. The final in the Aviva looked to be a foregone conclusion. All that had to happen was beat a team that was beaten easily 2 times this season. The Leinster brain trust where confident that this would be a procession.
Leinster always had the big night in Dublin at the final in mind. You could see the team struggle over the last month or so. The systems went from working at 90% to a much lower grade, which affected confidence and had me worried about the Scarlet’s visit to the RDS last Saturday. The performances over the last month to 8 weeks where just not up to scratch if Le Bleuz wanted to get to the final.
Getting into the stadium was fantastic. The atmosphere was absolutely massive. The blue army where there early and in full force, there had been a few hard-core Scarlet’s supporters who had made the trip were also out in force.
I made my way to the terrace by the north stand. I had never been standing in the RDS before and I would recommend it. Once you get the view you want there isn’t much better than a terrace at a sporting event. Very old school.
The game started with Leinster looking confident, looking to put pressure on the visitors and doing it well. But with no scoreboard return. The Scarlet’s where able to defend some decent play from the home side.
And then it started happening. More balls were dropped than a school full of teenage boys. It was fairly horrific to see. No one was purposely dropping balls, but it seeped through the team. The plays up to the final pass looked good; it was the last pass that cost Leinster everything. Knocks to McGrath and later Furlong did not help matters. Scarlet’s confidence soared when they saw the confidence leave the home side almost as fast as some of the supporters left the stadium before the final whistle (always bad form). The 2 Scarlets wingers where bossing the game, shouting their team around the pitch. Even when Steff Evans was carded for a horrific tackle on Ringrose. It didn’t change a thing. It looked like Leinster where the team down a player. The Scarlets waltzed through the defence with ease, such ease that it was tough to watch. It appeared that some players may already be on the plane, much like Ben T’eo in the final last year.
You can read about the scores elsewhere. Let’s look at the psyche of Leinster.
Like in any sport, no team is as bad as some results are and never as good as other results. The answers are somewhere in the middle usually. Leinster tried their own game plan, but appeared incapable of changing from that. At times, keeping the ball was the way to go, keep the ball and recycle to bring back some confidence. Instead they kicked and continue a risky style which works when confidence is up, not so much when it is down.
The Conan try being the beautiful exception. That was Leinster in full flight and when that happened the Welsh side had zero answers. It was the only bright spark of the evening.
This is the second time that Leinster have been in the big games and have been found wanting. The previous being last year’s final against Connacht. On that day they allowed a rampant Connacht to run at them at speed, and paid the price. We know what happened on Friday. Ulster and Clermont are teams that are incapable of closing out a championship after setting the table. Leinster need to be careful to not become gatekeepers for the real title hopefuls in future.
Is this the second time where leaders were missing? There were international players in blue who didn’t appear to have any want to grab the game by the throat and make the call. Is this due to orders from the bench? Or a fear of making a mistake? A summer off is a good thing for the younger players. A summer in green will do Ringrose a huge favour and a summer recuperating will give Iron man time to recharge.
Leinster have tried to replace the enforcers in the last years with minimal success. Triggs, whilst a beast, is not the guy. They need to find another Nathan Heinz / Brad Thorn type. The team is massively skilful and has an ability to beat any team on the planet, but they need to do this week in and week out to rebuild the winning habit.
As for Neil Francis and his comments about Leinster believing their celeb status is laughable. No one went on to that pitch to play badly. It was their inability to work their way through the tough periods to bounce back, much like Anthony Joshua did a few weeks back in his fight with Kiltschko that undid the favourites.
Unfortunately, rugby is a team combat sport. And you cannot play a combat sport without being combative. The Scarlets where the latest team who were able to walk into the RDS and push around a great team, with no reply from same.
This needs to be fixed over the summer.
As usual, @nkeegan on twitter and @kdubdd on Instagram.