Leinster need new generation to start coming through ranks
No blame should be attached to Sexton, who has had another storming campaign, not least as Leinster’s mindset was focused on having to cross the whitewash if they were to achieve anything in the Auvergne. But last Saturday’s lineout wobbles were a reminder they will also rue the three botched attacking lineouts in the final quarter in Clermont which, had they been executed, ought at least to have earned a penalty or drop goal to draw.
Glimmer of hope
And, one more point to take them to 21, would have put them through. Against that, the last-minute bonus point in defeat at home to Clermont was just that, and gave them a glimmer of hope that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.
Misfortune befell them on the way. They missed the first two ERC European Players of the Year, Seán O’Brien and Rob Kearney, for three and four of their six pool games respectively. Brian O’Driscoll missed both Clermont games in starting three of the six. Luke Fitzgerald, who has looked as fit as a flea in his comeback, missed the first four.
They were particularly unlucky with Quinn Roux in the secondrow, who hasn’t appeared since badly injuring his shoulder in the warm-up at the Sportsground last October, and then also losing Damien Browne for the last two games.
Roux, by all accounts a beast, might have been a younger replacement to fill the void left by Nathan Hines and Brad Thorn. Instead, it meant too much has been asked of Leo Cullen, who this season has been obliged to regularly play 80 minutes in contrast to how his game time had been managed in recent years.
Watching Simon Shaw stifle the Toulon maul almost single-handedly was a reminder how much Leinster lost in Hines and Thorn as Exeter drove through them. Hence the signing of Mike McCarthy, though it looks as if Leinster still need more there. Nor has Michael Bent augmented a recruitment drive which has lost some of its quality in the last year or two.
The only ever-presents were Isa Nacewa, Sexton, Mike Ross, Cullen and Jamie Heaslip, although this was partly due to squad rotation. Privately at any rate, Schmidt must wonder if he erred in not starting Cian Healy at home against Clermont.
They used 29 players, which for three-time European champions in the last four years, should not be as demanding as it proved. Admittedly, the quality of their casualty list was significant, but as significant has been the comparative conveyor belt of talent coming through the other academies – an area where Leinster set the benchmark for much of the noughties.
It’s time for another new generation to start coming through.