Leinster coaches put onus on players to start delivering the goods

THE FEELING WITHIN the Leinster group all season has been that the attacking performance they know they are capable of is within touching distance.

An accurate pass here, an aggressive rucking contribution there, a slightly more understanding support line; get those details right and the flow will follow.

Despite many outside their circle increasingly losing faith, the coaches and players remain positive about their prospects of clicking into top form. The evidence on the pitch might suggest that those thoughts are misguided, but Leinster plow on in search of their attacking zenith.

“The accuracy probably hasn’t been there,” admits kicking and skills coach Richie Murphy. “The ball carrier needs to work that little bit harder when he has the ball, our cleanout has to be accurate.

“It’s amazing if you can be 1% or 2% better there, these guys can be 2% better somewhere else, all of a sudden the ball is a little bit quicker and the opportunities will present themselves a lot easier.

Back row Kevin McLaughlin has stated his belief that Leinster have been forcing passes at times in attack, “getting over-excited and trying to force it a little bit.” The 30-year-old admits those errors have “an impact on confidence when you’re on the pitch.”

Other players have expressed similar sentiments around Leinster’s stuttering form too, underlining that once those passes start to stick, there will be notable improvements in terms of breaking the opposition down.

Murphy [left] and O’Connor want their players to make better decisions on the pitch. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

That said, Leinster’s coaching staff were disappointed by ignored opportunities against Munster, when chances to move the ball into potentially advantageous wide channels were spurned in favour of lower-risk inside passes or switch plays.

For skills guru Murphy, the key for Leinster is making the ideal decisions in attack.

“Some people say they’re forcing the pass, then there’s other opportunities when we actually can pass and we don’t. So it’s about making the right decisions really.

“We’ve a certain way that we try to play, especially when we’re getting into the opposition’s 22, but we just need to focus on exactly what their role is. You need to earn the right to actually move the ball into those areas.

“We’ll be focusing back to the process of what we’re actually trying to achieve in those areas, it’ll be up to the players then to try and focus on that, rather than not passing or throwing the pass and turning over the ball.”

Mention of the players themselves is apt there, from a Leinster point of view especially. Luke Fitzgerald yesterday said he and his teammates owe head coach Matt O’Connor a performance, a notion McLaughlin also expressed last week.

Much has been made of how Leinster’s style of play has altered in the last two seasons under the Australian’s rule, but Murphy stresses that there really hasn’t been too much difference to what has gone before in terms of philosophy and approach.

Leinster conceded three tries in Limerick. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“Not massively,” says Murphy, “Matt’s asking the guys to see what’s in front of them and play it a little bit, but I don’t see it as being massively different to where it has been before.”

Echoing Fitzgerald and McLaughlin’s words, Murphy points out that the onus is on the players on the pitch at any one time to deliver.

“At the end of the day, we can’t play the game for the guys,” outlines Murphy.

“They have to deliver and believe in what we’ve given them, and deliver at the weekend.”

That Leinster’s injury issues are beginning to ease means competition for places in the starting XV should become a little fiercer in the coming weeks. That in turn is likely to spike individual performance levels.

Rugby is a team game, but Murphy underlines that improvements in the component parts of Leinster’s XV will naturally mean a better performance collectively.

“The individual has a role to play, where he is on the park,” says the former Leinster out-half. “He needs to focus on his role and not worry about anyone else’s role. If everyone has that, the team focus will look after itself.”

Jimmy Gopperth and Ian Madigan provide the options at 10. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

Ben Te’o’s recovery from injury adds a formidable option in the centre and perhaps frees up Ian Madigan to play at out-half more often.

O’Connor himself has indicated that Madigan’s deployment in the centre and at fullback is something that has been somewhat forced upon him by injuries. Murphy backs up that suggestion.

Click Here: parramatta eels shirt

“He’s [Madigan] been moved around in order to accommodate putting all our best players on the pitch.

“I thought Ian did quite well [against Munster last weekend]. Some stuff was very good and then there were one or two mistakes as well. That can be expected, he hasn’t played much at 10 this year.

“I think it was only his third start there, including the one he had for Ireland, so he’ll be a lot better for that moving forward. Hopefully we can get him more game time at 10.”

Henshaw set for Connacht return in sold-out New Year’s Day Munster tieWorld Cup with Ireland is ‘top of the pile’ for Luke Fitzgerald