Matt O’Connor says victory over Ospreys the main focus
Leinster coach knows visitors won’t be coming here to flick the ball around
Dan Biggar and Scott Baldwin celebrate victory in the 2012 Pro12 final as Romain Poite blows the final whistle. It left a sour taste in home mouths.
At first glance, Leinster’s Heineken Cup game at home to the Ospreys this Friday doesn’t appear to have quite the normal dramatic potential of this competition’s pool climaxes. Even so, while they are not fighting for their lives and a bonus-point win as was the case away to Exeter at this point a year ago, Leinster have still to nail down one of the last two qualifying spots.
Nor is it somehow as comforting as it should be that a bonus-point defeat would be sufficient to advance, even if it would also be an ignominious way of doing so.
The flip side is that even with a bonus-point win, Leinster cannot overtake the ultimate winners of the Leicester/Ulster group, so they need two of the other four pool leaders to slip up over the remainder of the weekend, which looks unlikely at face value.
Yet Leinster’s mentality going into this match has to ignore all of that and be spot on. “All we’re focused on this week is winning, getting a result,” maintained Matt O’Connor predictably and understandably yesterday. “It’s probably not that different to how you approach the league in reality. All league games are about winning and, then, you need to reassess inside the contest. That’s where we got to in Castres when we scored that late try through Jordi Murphy. The guys want to play and they want to get maximum points out of the game. We just need to win.”
“The reality is that you are unlikely to be at home,” conceded O’Connor regarding the quarter-finals. “All you do is tick the first box, get the result. The confidence we gained across the group in Castres, knowing we are a pretty good team away from home. If we can replicate those performances we’ve had in the Pool stages in a quarter-final, how tough a place it is, is irrelevant.”
There are added complications, notably a meeting with their old bugbears and the presence of the unpredictable Romain Poite, whose officiating of the Grand League final of two seasons ago, which the Ospreys won at the RDS (repeating their feat of 2009), left a sour taste in home mouths.
A draw at the venue in September was another reminder of the threat they invariably pose Leinster, and O’Connor name-checked Dan Biggar (the tournament’s leading points scorer with 20 kicks from 20) and Justin Tipuric (who has the tournament’s highest number of turnovers).
“They’re a good side,” said the Leinster coach. “They probably haven’t got the same roster that they had two or three years ago for a number of reasons but they’ve got four Lions in the tight five, an incredibly good backrow, Dan Biggar is as good a 10 as there is in Wales, he’s a good footballer.
“They’re a dangerous side if you give them opportunity and your set-piece doesn’t function and you’re ill-disciplined then you’ve a chance to get beaten by them so we’ll have to be good. There’s no doubt about it.”
The five-day turnaround has limited time on the pitch, but it’s been the same for the Ospreys, who might be of a mind to rest some of their nine Welsh squad members if carrying any knocks, although Adam Jones may need a start. O’Connor also expressed the view that familiarity helped maximise time together off the pitch.
That said, he admitted the Ospreys’ mindset might be akin to Northampton’s at the Aviva. “They were very focused on getting a performance and being as physical as possible and making it hard for us more than trying to outplay us, and I don’t for one second think that the Ospreys are going to come here and flick the ball around because that doesn’t necessarily suit them. They’re going to race off the line in defence and be very physical at the breakdown, and try and get Justin Tipuric into the game and they’ll be looking to take their opportunities when they get their opportunities.”
Leo Cullen, who made only his sixth appearance of the season last Sunday, also made light of the five-day turnaround, noting how a paltry six lineout throws against Castres contributed to them not showing their hand, even if “it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense”.
His impending transition from uber successful captain and player to forwards coach has been on ice as he focuses on the final months of his playing career. “I’m just concentrating on finishing the way I’d like to finish and that’s with Leinster being successful at the end of the season and trying to win as many games as possible. We’re very much week to week and it’s all about winning the next game. I’m only in it for another short period.
“Four or five months, whatever it’s going to be. I just want to savour every occasion I get to play because I know it will be pretty weird not doing it next year. The coaching thing is something I’m looking forward too but almost something that still feels in the distance. I’ll have enough time at the end of the season and in the pre-season to get my bearings there with that.”