D’Arcy has learned to tread more carefully
Centre does not want to be part of a team that plays great rugby but has nothing to show for it
The more flamboyant, freestyle rugby Leinster play, the harder they plan it. The more off the cuff their running game appears, the greater they will have practised. Leinster’s relationship with the game is in trusting its simplicity and where players like Gordon D’Arcy (above) know that out of toil, flair and creativity will follow, he says disarmingly “rugby is not a hard game”.
An enduring presence, the inside centre may have cause to settle back a little and bask in the 15 years hard labour he has provided, often to give others on the team expression.
A monolithic trouper alongside Brian O’Driscoll, the rise of Leinster is etched in his career like no other apart from the player outside him. As the team moves through a transition, D’Arcy represents a figure that is permanent and lasting, he and O’Driscoll a hub of 30 years rugby experience between them. They are more than safe hands minding the house.
“Work ethic is one thing that it comes down to,” he says. “Coming in at half eight, nine in the morning, these guys [Leinster coaches] are here and they could be here for two hours. [Michael] Cheika was the same. There’s a foundation definitely that came from Cheiks. I can definitely see the same traits and the desire to win in both the coaches. From what I’ve heard, I think Matt’s [O’Connor] going to be the same guy.
“The forwards, tight five and backrow, generally decide who is going to win. How we play is probably not irrelevant, but we will be judged one what we achieve at the end of the season. You don’t want to be that team that plays that great brand of rugby but has nothing to show for it.”
To that end Joe Schmidt has moved to ensure that his elevation to the Irish job does not cause instability or that any player’s eye moves off the ball. In fact his departure has ensured a more careful examination of how Leinster approaches the glory end of the season
“We have had that transition with coaches before where it hasn’t been seamless and if anything it was absolute chaos around the squad and that squad was potentially more mature at the time,” says D’Arcy.
“I do believe a lot of the stuff starts at the top and works its way down and I think Joe . . . it’s probably something you’re going to start seeing in the national job . . . he just handles things absolutely perfectly.
“The way he thinks things through and his unique perspective on things, it usually means no stone is going to be left unturned. He invariably comes out with the right answers at the right times.”
Reassuring as that may be, Leinster has two irons still in the fire with the possibility of nothing to show still alive. The dull thought of defeat determines some caution. Hard bitten by past falls, a run of losing two matches in the next seven days would drastically alter the season. The team requires success and while D’Arcy’s twilight years allow him shine a harsher light on results and performances, and perhaps read the signs better, he also treads more carefully.
Rushing headlong towards the final, with Glasgow still to clear, makes his internal alarm bells chime. There is no lack of clarity about the process ahead. There is no PRO12 final. Not yet anyway.
“We cannot start talking about two weeks on,” he says. “We are not in a final and we have not earned that right to talk about being in a final. We’ve beaten Glasgow by seven or eight points in the last two outings. I wouldn’t be treating my opponents with the appropriate amount of respect if I was talking about a final in three weeks time that we haven’t even earned the right to get into yet.”
It has been a 11-point difference in the last two outings. In November Leinster went to Scotstoun and won 0-6 with Ian Madigan kicking both penalties. Glasgow arrived to the RDS in March and again Leinster came away 22-17 winners, Madigan scoring all of the points, one try, one conversion and five penalties. Madigan is the only Leinster player who has scored against Townsend’s team this season and he is not starting.
In another time in another team it may have been seen as a big call. But these days few people question Schmidt’s selection decisions. If anything it is confirmation of D’Arcy’s high standing and that at 33 years old he still has the capacity to repel the advances of the most improved player in the Leinster squad.
“They probably felt that was one that got away. The match away in November was incredibly tough,” he says of the 0-6 win. “The conditions probably weren’t ideal for free-flowing rugby. It was a real attritional game and there weren’t many try-scoring opportunities.
“That game aside, you look at their recent run of games and they were scoring three or four tries in nearly every game. You can see the way Gregor Townsend has brought the way he played to that team. They play that high-paced game. They want to score tries but the great thing about that is you know what’s coming and you can’t have any “what ifs” afterwards.
That’s how they played last time, an aggressive mobile side and under the former Scotland outhalf, they have been gifted with a licence to attack. Their scrumhalf, Nikola Matawalu, is one of the busiest snipers in the league and the backline, laced with running forwards, feed off his high tempo. Leinster’s win in the RDS came from behind.
“The back three and the backrow are huge strengths for them and that offload game,” says D’Arcy. “Sometimes you might look at it and think there’s a bit of luck involved, but when you do that time and again it takes the luck out of it. I was looking at it and one of their front rowers has four tries this season. That tells its own tale.”
Cheika brought steel to the team and Schmidt has added finesse and subtlety. O’Connor is sure to sprinkle something else. D’Arcy and O’Driscoll have changed too. They have slowed and are not as big as they once were, the two of them making their own nuanced adjustments to bodies that need careful management. A calf muscle has been tormenting D’Arcy in recent weeks. Now fixed winning is all that matters.
“We have lost it three times,” he says of the last three final defeats, two against Ospreys, one Munster. “That is a huge monkey on our back. As a club, it’s a real sleight on us. We take it as a sleight that we haven’t been able to back it up and win.”
Still hungry, no softening, no stepping back.