History has a funny way of repeating itself and never more so than in rugby. Once more Leinster find themselves facing elimination from the European platform at the hands of Toulon and once again they look likely to be at least in part architects of their own demise.
There’s a bit of a Matt O’Connor hate train building this season and I’m trying my best to let it leave the station without me. I have always sat on the side of Leinster’s dip in form having more to do with the glut of departing players more so than simply the exit of Joe Schmidt. It doesn’t help that Schmidt has completely revitalised the national team which seemingly gives people a more direct comparison and enables the anti-O’Connor sentiment to take effect.
Like I said, I’m trying to stay out of this quagmire but unfortunately after Saturday’s underwhelming victory over Bath it is very hard to point the finger in any direction but his. Leaving aside the two week turnaround from the end of the Six Nations as it isn’t nearly as relevant as some think, O’Connor had at his disposal on Saturday 13 of the Irish 23 for that thumping of Scotland. Maybe Jamie Heaslip and Mike Ross could have done with the rest but the other 11 are top international standard players; their individual form isn’t in question here. The first half against Bath saw a lot of wide play from Leinster but it was wide to nothing. Wide, wide contact. Wide, wide contact. I’m not going to get into Jimmy Gopperth and what he may or may not lack from a playmaker perspective – there’s too much quality in the team for him to be sole problem – no the issue is that Leinster are playing with little confidence.
Failed line outs, breakaway runs and overlaps going to waste, failure to capitalise on a man advantage; it all smells a little off and in now way resembles the Leinster of Schmidt and further to that, the Leinster of Michael Cheika. Bath let themselves down in the first half massively but come the final whistle on Saturday you couldn’t help but feel for them, especially when the last five minutes or so looked to have them well on course to at least force extra time. Alas, Leinster prevailed and I’ll go along with the consensus that muscle memory gets them through in these situations, but it seems to be kicking in later and later these days, in two weeks time you’d think they’ll be praying for extra time.
One final note just to mention how special a moment it was when Peter Stringer took the pitch for Bath. Once spotted on the big screen warming up the cheer began, loudest from the Leinster faithful, and when he took the pitch the stadium erupted. Such is the class of the man that it only took seconds for his skill and the spark he provided Bath to silence the Leinster crowd. Magic.
Leinster 18 – 15 Bath
Image courtesy of zimbio.com