Shane Jennings expecting Leinster to bounce back in style
Last week’s home Heineken Cup defeat to Northampton likely to have Matt O’Connor’s team in determined mood for visit of Edinburgh
Shane Jennings in action during a Leinster squad training session. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Matthew Syed may or may not be your cup of tea. If not you may be the lesser for it. This week’s offering in the London Times was of football but equally it applied to Leinster Rugby and concerned the act of randomness, which in the profession of analysis and punditry usually means dead copy.
Syed’s thoughts drifted to how our analysis of things past can be deluded on the narratives we impose retrospectively, especially if they are complex events such as tactics and performance in a rugby match.
Johnny Sexton took too long at his kicks against the All Blacks; Leinster were complacent against Northampton; New Zealand beat Ireland because Irish players were tired.
Syed calls it the narrative of fallacy and it comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Fooled by Randomness.
What we use to lionise Leinster we also often use to tear them down. ‘Poker Face approach Ensures Leinster Holds All The Aces,’ was one newspaper headline before the Northampton match. ‘Reality check as inept Leinster get what they deserve” came afterwards. Sometimes we can be mesmerised by our own expertise but I have yet to see ‘Inept Leinster hold all the Aces’.
Over the course of a season everything evens out. Leinster dip and they rise. Some explanations work but should we be sceptical of the ones that only work in hindsight. Is there any point in Leinster beating themselves up over the Northampton defeat? Shane Jennings was asked that this week.
“We’re realistic about the whole situation,” he said stoically. “It’s massively disappointing. We’re at home in a European game and they’re the games you really go after. Obviously we took a lot of confidence from the week before.”
The Irish flanker wasn’t all answers, perhaps because he didn’t know them. He knew what went wrong on the day but not exactly why.
“It’s the obvious statement,” he added. “But it’s so disappointing that you can’t reproduce that performance against the same team.”
It is not very often Leinster loses two matches in a row and needless to say if they do at the weekend against Edinburgh, crash and burn headlines will festoon the print media. Matt O’Connor’s coaching will be questioned, the player management system will be wrong, even Christmas spirit may take a bullet.
“No. I wouldn’t like it to happen,” said Jennings when he was asked if he could remember the last time Leinster lost two matches in succession.
“Thankfully that says quite a lot about our group, that we can react well to defeats. Hopefully we can sort out some of the situations that didn’t go so well at the weekend. If we can do that we’re going to put ourselves in a good position.
“It’s a big old Christmas period for us starting this Friday and then a couple of inter-pros leading into Europe again. Big games for the club and there are going to be a lot of players coming in and out. So we’ve got to show that we’ve a good squad and the ability to go over to these places and perform.”
Over the last six years Leinster have never lost more than six matches in the league proper. Last year it was five, the year before three, six years ago four matches. So far this season they have lost twice. Even if they lose to Edinburgh this week, it won’t mean a lot in terms of how the team is going to perform over the course of the season. They are on target for a top four finish again as well as knock out stage of Heineken Cup.
“It was a bit strange the way it all clicked,” said Jennings of the first 40-7 win over Northampton. “But this week it didn’t click.”
The phrase statistical noise is used when numbers are employed to explain past events. But momentum shifts, losing streaks and queer results in the scheme of things are often irrelevant. Rather the Northampton defeat has to do with the nature of randomness, the reverse in Aviva a natural phenomenon that has no other explanation. But then that wouldn’t make as interesting reading as ‘Leinster In Crisis.’.