‘I still think there is another gear in us we can go to’ – Ryan
Leinster’s place in the Champion’s Cup final in Bilbao next month is the end product of a process that was run on the twin track approach of a macro and micro focus on the rugby environment within the club.
Leo Cullen touched upon it when asked about whether positive European experiences, and specifically, the knowledge gleaned from winning the trophy makes it easier to replicate the feat. Cullen captained Leinster to their three triumphs in 2009, 2011 and 2012 and now has taken them to a first final as head coach.
Having initially smiled it was easier physically to be a coach and mentally to be a player he offered an overview to the initial soul searching and then the recognition of a changing European rugby environment that necessitated some alterations in Leinster if they were to challenge for silverware again.
“It (experience on its own) hasn’t served us great in the last four or five years. There is a lot of experience the group can draw on, certain characters in the group at least. When Leinster were winning trophies, the landscape was completely different in terms of some of the teams that have (now) emerged; Saracens and Racing.
“We had to rethink a lot of the things that we were doing. It clearly wasn’t good enough for us so we had to get back to the drawing board and work incredibly hard. Ultimately, it will be good for the club because it’s certainly had to focus a lot of minds for us to improve and get better. It’s nice to be back at this stage again.
“As Rob (Kearney) said, knowing what that is like (to win trophies) just makes you want it again and again and again. The group, the experiences they’ve had coming off the back of the Six Nations just makes them want to do it again. It’s an amazing tournament. The crowd was amazing. What it means to the public is great and the players really feed off that.”
The micro side is a specific gameplan for coaches and players germane to each match. Cullen and his fellow coaches, Stuart Lancaster, Girvan Dempsey and John Fogarty picked a doozey to pick apart the Scarlets. Leinster’s top carrier (16) and joint highest tackler (12) James Ryan explained: “I think for large parts of the game we really delivered what we spoke about, we wanted our forwards getting around the corner, giving us good gainlines and giving good ball for the backs to use. I still think there is another gear in us that we can go to: so plenty to work on and plenty to plenty to look at.”
Having batted away a mention of his continued unbeaten run of matches as a senior player he was equally modest when discussing the try he scored to set Leinster on their way. “To be honest I think that try belongs to Church (Cian Healy) and Jordi (Murphy), they carried me over the line.”
It’s a familiar refrain amongst the team, the collective matters more than any personal considerations. Man-of-the-match Scott Fardy, another try scorer said: “It’s exciting to be a part of when you are playing with guys who have so much talent now never mind what they are going to be like in the future. I’m enjoying it; it’s a lot of fun. I thought the boys put in a great shift.”
Garry Ringrose paid tribute to the “fantastic” work of pack before adding: “Myself and James (Ryan) and a good few of the other young lads are incredibly lucky to be surrounded by the likes of Isa (Nacewa), Rob (Kearney), Johnny (Sexton), the list goes on. We are able to listen to those key messages.”
And perhaps the ultimate act of selflessness can be found in the words of Jamison Gibson-Park, who had a fine game deputising for the injured Luke McGrath: “I feel for him (McGrath) as he would love to be out there but we’ve got him another game and I’d imagine he’ll be back for the big one. I was out there trying to do my best for the team. I’m very happy with how (it) went. I’m pretty happy for the whole team.”
‘‘ It’s exciting to be a part of when you are playing with guys who have so much talent now never mind what they are going to be like in the future