Let’s be honest here, usually rugby stocking fillers are complete shite. They generally consist of heavily edited re-runs of the season gone by with plenty of banal interviews with players and highlights or images that you’ve seen before.
In 2012 though, Leinster actually decided to create something of value. Rightly cashing in on the bandwagon, the ‘history of Leinster Rugby’ DVD actually turned out to be an eminently watchable, thoroughly enjoyable long form story. Legends like Ollie Campbell, Ronnie Dawson, Willie Duggan, Slattery were wheeled out and given a mandate to speak freely, something which the current media trained, manicured pros don’t often do. (We miss you Radge!)
For me though, the DVD’s tagline was probably the most interesting biggest part of the story.
Leinster have always been the ‘flash harrys’ to Munster’s forward grunt, and it seemed that the makers of this product were happy to play up to that with ‘running rugby’.
CEO Mick Dawson mentioned has mentioned the legacy of backline play and running rugby informally on numerous occasions, and when BOD spoke of creating a winning culture and legacy after the Twickenham HEC win, it was tinged with this idea that Leinster’s culture must always be more ‘Harlem Globetrotter’ than ’10 man kick and chase’.
Indeed, I remember fondly the days before ’09 with the dream team of Contepomi, D’arcy, BOD, Horgan and Hickie, along with the necessary safe pair of hands at the back in Girve the Swerve. Think of evenings out like Bath and Toulouse and how Leinster lived and died by the sword.
The ‘same old Leinster, champagne rugby’ chant was a particular favourite.
For years, Leinster’s soft underbelly was cruelly exposed by bigger, more powerful, hungier forward packs, while the lack of control from the mercurial Contepomi could often render a supposedly easy task more difficult than it needed to be. Remember Wasps in Adams Park, Edinburgh in Murrayfield (twice) and the dreaded Black Sunday?
And then, with Mr. Cheika, we realised there was more than one way to skin a cat. Hard nosed forward signings and returnee leaders like Cullen and Jennings were brought in.
The Magners League success of 2008, but in particular the ‘stand at the Stoop’ of 2009 were based on forward power and, quite often, Sexton stepping in to add control. (Many forget the role the Mary’s man had in the league victory in particular, playing over 1,000 minutes).
Let’s more forward a bit.
While the era of Schmidt has been tinged with a positive tint, many also forget that his three years in charge weren’t based on the ‘attack at will’ morals of old. You don’t go to Clermont and take on a French pack with that type of attitude. Indeed, Schmidt was probably the first Leinster coach to mix the forward power of the late Cheika era with
- a real top quality cohort of international players and signings
- a smart malleable game plan
- a core group of cool headed leaders
- the wider player base, coaching team, hunger and accumulated skillset to match.
Now the MOC question has been done to death across forums, in the media and online in the last few months. I seem to have a different theory on him than most, but the fact remains, for whatever reason, the above bullet points are either fully or partly missing at the moment.
So where do we go from here?
Proposal – An ethos change…
At the Leinster Rugby awards dinner last night, the annual player of the year awards were handed out.
Previously, we’ve seen the likes of Nacewa, O’Driscoll, Sexton, Contepomi and Kearney challenging for honours. This year, Ruddock, Toner, Healy and Murphy made up the key contenders, and the awards for senior and young POTY were handed to Martin Moore and Jack McGrath.
Spot a trend here?
I made an off the cuff point in a ‘TheScore.ie’ piece last Summer that perhaps Leinster’s future was more forward dominated than driven by beauties out the back.
Today, it’s emerged that Leinster will likely be signing Kane Douglas, a 24 year old 6’8 lock who’s almost 20 stone.
Douglas has a rugby league background and is known to be a bit of a bruiser.
A potential Leinster pack for next season could look like this:
Healy, Cronin, Moore, Toner, Douglas, Ruddock, O’Brien, Heaslip
Strauss, McGrath, Ross, McCarthy, Murphy
Quality at every position, but perhaps more importantly, beef in every position too.
Rightly, some of the criticism of O’Connor this year has centered on the backline play and willingness to bring in big, ostensibly less talented backs like Fanning, Kirchner and particularly Tuqiri.
But here’s an interesting question.
Has he foreseen something that many Leinster fans are missing?
Is it time that we stop thinking about Leinster as a silky backline dominated entity and more of a brute power force?
Less New Zealand and more South Africa?
The talent is there, the willingness is obviously there from management and the pipeline is filled with similar players too.
The Academy Factory
Now, I know this suggestion isn’t going to go down well with some. After all, rugby is a game we fans are hugely passionate about, but also pay to be entertained by. Nobody wants to see Leinster turn into a Saracens.
But could we turn into a Leicester?
Along with the players mentioned above, whether by design or coincidence, there are options.
Look at the calibre of forwards on the way through, and the nature of the backs. The ‘farm system’ (as it’s termed in MLB), is bringing up a core group of players that would certainly fit that system.
Furlong, Byrne, Dooley, Leavy, Conan are all bruising, powerful, potentially world class forwards.
While behind that we have big, athletic and potentially world class backs in Robb, Crosbie, Daly, Brewer, Byrne et al. Each of these is over 6 foot and, when fully grown and developed within a pro setup, will likely top out at at least 15 1/2 stone.
Top that off with a few classy signings and the future looks a lot brighter than some might be making it out to be.
I’m a big proponent of team culture as an important factor in pro sport. Read James Kerr’s ‘Legacy’ for an insight into why the All Blacks have been so successful.
So should Leinster be leaving the history of beautiful backline moves and running rugby and looking down a different path that’s more bludgeon than rapier?
While this is more of a discussion starter than a firm mantra, whatever your opinion, there’s certainly some evidence to suggest it’s a salient option.
Leave your thoughts below…