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Ronan O'Gara highlights Leinster's biggest issues following final defeat

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Monday May 27, 2024

Another year, another final, and another disappointment is the brutal reality for Leinster Rugby as they look to pick themselves up ahead of the BKT URC play-offs.

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Despite being off-colour once again in attack, Leinster took a mightily impressive Toulouse side to extra time in what was one of the competition’s greatest finals.

Yet, for all of their determination and defensive brilliance, Leinster were found wanting when it most mattered.

Beginning the extra time period, Leinster would immediately have their backs to the wall as winger James Lowe was given his marching orders for a deliberate knockdown. Given the extra time consisted of two ten-minute halves, losing their star winger for the first portion was a significant blow.

Showing their quality, Toulouse immediately exposed the Leinster defence as winger Matthis Lebel Streaked down the left hand touchline for the first try of the contest.

To their credit Leinster struck back ten minutes later with a try of their own through Josh van der Flier in a rare moment of their clunky attacking game functioning. Even still the score did not capture the imagination as it was built on pure determination from the backrow to squeeze through the Toulouse defenders around the ruck.

Highlighting this lack of fluidity in attack is a man who is all too familiar in Leinster’s game in La Rochelle coach Ronan O’Gara. Speaking on the Irish sports talk show ‘Off The Ball’, O’Gara spoke about the factors he felt played to Toulouse favour and Leinster’s weaknesses.

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“When you play the best Top 14 team and you play them in a neutral venue… Leinster, so many of their games are either at home or in the Aviva.

“They might play a big game or two a year out of that, which doesn’t help them at all, I don’t think, when it comes to the really tough games.

“They have enough class for all those games, it’s just when it comes to a team that are as good as them, how do they continuously learn from coming up short?

“I suppose maybe the fact that Leinster weren’t ‘on’ in attack and the fact that maybe – as all great teams do – they build their form enough for winning on a defence, and you can see that Leinster have given a lot of time to that.

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“With the, whatever, 160 minutes of training time during the week, what are you prioritising? What are you going after?

“And to say you’re actually going after everything, it doesn’t work like that, because it’s DNA of South Africa, whose their coach – Nienaber – of course you respect this guy, he comes in, it’s kick pressure and it’s tackle for your life and defend for your family, so that’s what they did.”

Despite Leinster’s seemingly one dimensional approach to the fixture, O’Gara was full of praise for Leo Cullen’s side in their ability to consistently generate deep runs in the competition.

“You have to have absolute, huge admiration for getting to three finals. The weak people would be inclined to go “Well they bottle it, they can’t get over the line”. I wouldn’t give that view. I think they’re the most consistent team. They also have the most consistent resources in the fact that a lot of them play for Ireland and there’s such cohesion in that team that there is a right to ask the question, ‘Why aren’t they getting over the line?’.”

Looking ahead to next season, ROG was emphatic in his belief that Leinster will be better for the experience as well as with the impending addition of two truly world class talents.

“They’re bringing in Jordie Barrett and RG Snyman, two world class players which will make them even harder to beat. I would be a firm believer in that if you keep knocking at the door and keep your values right and keep showing up, you’ll kick the door down. And I think this team is very close.”

Offering an alternatively view to the positive one he believes in, O’Gara did highlight that the negativity surrounding losing another final could have an alternative affect on the player’s physiologically.

“But there is also a fear that a man, or a woman, can only take so much. I would be very, very low today if I was involved in that group who had gone to three finals, because losing in a final is ten times the hurt of losing in a quarter or a semi, because you’re all in.

“But if you multiply that season by season, it’s beyond thinkable.”

Whilst another Champions Cup title has evaded them, Leinster remain very much in the running for a URC title albeit they will have a challenging road ahead of them given their slip from 1st on the table to 3rd.  All things being even, it is now likely that for Leinster to win the title they will likely have to go on the road for both the semi-final and final. Before this, they will face provincial rivals Connacht on Friday evening at the RDS.

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