Tag Archives: Johntify

Simon Hick column The horizons have shifted after Leinsters Garden party

first_imgTHINGS DIDN’T LOOK too promising for Leinster at the start of this season.They’d come off their worst Heineken Cup display since the Gary Ella days, with signs they could be bullied by bigger sides. After the home loss to Clermont Joe Schmidt admitted there’s only so many times the small guys can outsmart the big bullies.They had lost their most influential player in Sexton, their most consistent player in Nacewa, and Schmidt departed, taking his ideas with him.Matt O’Connor was coming from very different cultures at The Brumbies, Japan and Leicester, with no proof he could make a backline sing.He was both a backs coach and a head coach for The Tigers but most of the big decisions were made by their director of rugby, Richard Cockerill. O’Connor had won back to back league titles in his time with the club, but winning the Premiership with Leicester is like winning the Ulster club championship with Crossmaglen — it seems to happen no matter who is involved.The Australian is approachable and friendly but says almost nothing in press gatherings, a big change from the previous head coaches, so the media have had to read more into what he has done on the field to gain any insight.INPHO/Andrew FoskerEven there though, before Saturday at least, there wasn’t a huge amount to report. Some slight tinkering with selection, no definitive change in gameplan, and solid if unspectacular displays.While results were good from the start, the fluidity in the backline wasn’t there.Ian Madigan’s non selection appeared significant too. A fan favourite and heir to the Felipe Contepomi ‘flawed genius’ role, Madigan had his momentum halted by O’Connor, which built on the idea that the team would be more risk averse from now on.The performance in Franklin’s Gardens, however, told us something new about this team, and about the head coach.Over the last three years the province was reliant on Schmidt and Sexton and Nacewa, but as often happens when leaders depart, others step up. Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip, two superstars of the 2009 Grand Slam Heineken Cup double season, have once again found the form of their lives. Luke Fitzgerald, the unluckiest of that generation, is clearly relaxed and enjoying himself again.The supremely talented Sean Cronin, in the past a frustrating player to watch, has added brilliant basics to the subtle skills he always possessed. Gordon D’arcy, meanwhile, has carried on from the New Zealand game, and even last year’s fringe players, Rhys Ruddock, Devin Toner and David Kearney, have become central figures this term.INPHO/Andrew FoskerIn spite of fears to the contrary, it’s clear the loss to New Zealand has energised the players, and the similarity in styles of play was striking. The rucking technique, and the ability for a whole range of lone ball carriers to break tackles is on a new level to what we’ve seen before.O’Connor, though, has to be given credit for not only the mental preparation and so many players being in form, but also the ambition and variety shown in attack. It was always likely he’d get the defence right, but the lines of running, composure in possession, option taking and offloading were as good as anything this province has delivered in the past.The coruscating style they adopted against Northampton, apart from helping to win the game, had a few fringe benefits. They killed it as a contest in the first 30 minutes, preserving nervous energy and drawing Northampton’s sting.They usually sought space as opposed to contact so the attrition rate was low, and when they did seek collisions, they had the inertia, inflicting rather than absorbing the contact.Northampton are deemed to have the most athletic pack in England, and can wear a team down over a two-legged affair, but that advantage was negated by Leinster’s style.Given the changes over the summer, solidity and consolidation would have been acceptable this year, but after last weekend, the horizons have shifted. He has now proven his team are capable of great things, so is expected to do it two weeks in a row.INPHO/Andrew FoskerNorthampton won’t play that badly again, are free of pressure, and Leinster are unlikely to be as accurate. History is against them too, teams rarely get hammered by the same opposition two weeks in a row, and Northampton themselves bounced back from a similar loss at home to Ulster last year.Players talk about fear being a great motivator, but embarrassment is probably an even greater motivational force.O’Connor and Leinster haven’t proven anything yet, but last Saturday was the first real window into his mind, and his playbook.They don’t need to set any benchmarks in the Aviva, just get a win, but more of the same would tell us the province have once again chosen the right man for the top job.Analysis: Leinster’s accuracy returns to blitz the Saintslast_img read more