Matt O’Connor has the chance to make his mark with Leinster if they beat Toulon
This still feels like the tail end of the Joe Schmidt era but one big result will change that
Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor speaks to his Leinster players before last Saturday’s RaboDirect Pro12 victory over Munster at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
There’s no doubt which of the Irish provinces has the toughest fixture this weekend. Going down to Toulon is a massive job for Leinster.
The days when you might have caught Toulon napping are gone – they’re not disorganised anymore and it isn’t a case of players who are just there for the money.
Over the years, there was always a good chance you could go to one of these big wealthy teams and as long as you had togetherness and structure, you had a chance because they could be all over the place if things didn’t go their way.
But not anymore. Toulon are a serious, passionate and hungry side with a demanding owner and intimidating fans.
So if ever there was a game for Matt O’Connor to really make his mark with this Leinster side, this is it.
The stand-out performance of his time so far was the win in Northampton but the fact they lost the return game in the Aviva the following week took the sting out of it a little.
If they go to Toulon and win though, that’s the Matt O’Connor era well and truly started.
So far, there’s still a bit of a feeling that this is the tail end of the Joe Schmidt era.
That’s always the way when a coach takes over a successful team. Most coaches get their job when a team is on a downward spiral – or at best, when they’re stagnating. They come in to change the way things are done, to turn things around, to light a fire under everyone.
O’Connor hasn’t had that chance. He has come in to the most pressurised environment of all – a team that has had a recent history of winning trophies year after year.
When a team has been losing, it’s win-win for the new coach. Turn it around and you’re the hero. Fail to turn it around and people start looking at the players and wonder why coach after coach can’t turn them into a team.
But it’s so different when a team has been winning. Players become attached to doing the things that brought them success. They accept a new coach wants to put his stamp on things but at the same time, it’s only natural they don’t want things changed too much.
It could be something as simple as longer video sessions or pitch sessions. It might seem totally innocuous but when you’re used to doing something one way and you’ve been winning doing it that way, it can take a bit of getting used to.
There’s always a danger when a coach comes in to a set-up that has been working and changes things because he feels he needs to be seen doing something. It can be so tough to get that balance right.
But part of good coaching is talking to senior players and getting the group to go along with you.
You have to judge what the situation is. Are these guys used to a strict regime, where every little detail is planned out for them and where they’re expected to live up to that? If so, there might not be a lot of point in a coach coming in and taking a more relaxed attitude to things. That might be his natural style but to some extent, he has to go along with what has got the best out of this team before.