Heineken hangover robs Leinster and Munster of intensity needed for Pro 12 contests
Alan Quinlan believes players let what had happened the previous week interfere with preparations
Leone Nakarawa of Glasgow Warriors celebrates as his team beats Munster in Pro12 clash last week. photograph: dan sheridan/inpho
If there was ever any doubt about how important the mental side of sport is, the results of the Irish teams in the Rabo over the weekend put it to bed. Munster were incredibly poor, Leinster weren’t much better, whereas Ulster were really dominant against Connacht. It was obvious the defining factor in each game was attitude and mental preparation.
Going into the weekend, I would have expected Munster and Leinster to win their games, to grab what’s left in the season by the scruff of the neck. The flipside is that I felt Ulster might struggle against Connacht, given they were missing so many frontline guys and that they were bound to be hurting after going out of the Heineken in such controversial circumstances the week before. But to their credit they turned up and did their job.
You can’t say the same for the other two. I covered the Leinster game against the Ospreys for RTÉ and although they made seven changes from the Toulon game, I looked at the teamsheet beforehand and expected them to dominate. Maybe not on the scoreboard but in the physical exchanges.
I thought they would come out and look to make a statement after what had happened in France. This was their chance to say: “Look, this season is not over. We are still in here fighting, we are still Leinster, even if the Heineken Cup is gone for us now.”
And when they got their try just before half-time to go in 13-10 behind, my feeling was that if they wanted to do it, they would do it. That was the sort of game it was. Ospreys had played well in the first half but Leinster had them where they wanted them and if they came out with the right attitude, the game was theirs for the taking.
But what we saw in the second half was a team that lacked the energy and drive to win the match. Bar Cian Healy, who was phenomenal, you couldn’t pick out too many players who did themselves justice when it came to things like workrate, carries and turnovers. There were lots of errors, balls not sticking, the usual telltale signs of a team feeling a bit punch- drunk from the week before.
Munster were no better. Worse, if anything. At least Leinster had the excuse of having to pick themselves off the floor after a defeat. Munster had to be coming into their game against Glasgow on a high. They were coming back to the same stadium six days after a big victory, looking to keep the momentum going.
But just as Leinster looked like they had a hangover from losing, Munster looked a bit lost in the aftermath of having won. After Thomond Park had been absolutely rocking the previous Sunday, now it was eerie and quiet and the players came out with no intensity or energy and they paid the price.
These things can happen at this time of the year. It’s been a long season, you’ve been going at it week-in and week-out since August. The weather is turning and getting that bit warmer so you can see the end of the line coming up ahead. Your body will be sore – sorer than back in August anyway – but the real challenge is getting your head into the right place for each game, no matter how big or small the game is.
The comedown from a massive Heineken Cup game can be tough to handle. You’re going from an environment where the atmosphere has basically carried you along – where you can literally feel the passion of the occasion having a physical effect on your body – to an environment that is so much more quiet and run of the mill.