Lancaster has faith in Leinster model despite La Rochelle lesson
Lancaster insists provinces can dine at the top table after semi-final Champions Cup exit
Devin Toner and Stuart Lancaster arrive at the ground in La Rochelle. Photograph: Manuel Blondeau/Inpho
Despite Sunday’s defeat by a star-studded, multi-national La Rochelle team against an almost exclusively home-grown Leinster squad, Stuart Lancaster fervently believes the province’s model can still allow them to dine at Europe’s top table.
In Tuesday morning’s review of their Champions Cup semi-final defeat with the squad, Lancaster referenced The Dynasty, a book about the New England Patriots, whom Sports Illustrated described as the most successful sports team in America.
Charting their six Super Bowls between 2001 and 2018, Lancaster noted: “That means in 12 seasons they lost in either a play-off game, a final or a semi-final.
“Even some of the games they won, they won in overtime and there was a great clip of Tom Brady that was on the Tom vs Time documentary series. He summed it up and I showed it to the players as well. It is so hard to win the Champions Cup.
“I’m saying to the younger players ‘don’t just sit there and think that this is something that’s easy to do.’ You need to commit everything to it and everything to go your way when you’re playing against the teams that the French teams can pull together with a new TV deal,” said Lancaster in reference to the Top 14’s new €454.4m, four-year deal with Canal+.
“It’s not just the overseas players that I think has improved the French teams, I think there’s the quality of the coaching and credit to Jono and Rog and what they’ve done there.
When you’re playing against these powerful teams you need to nail your moments and you need to play a game that plays to our strengths
“I think they’re fitter, they’re more organised and I think the quality of the French home-grown players has definitely improved. You add in a Kerr-Barlow and a Vito and a Skelton and a couple of South Africans and whatever else, it makes them formidable teams. Can Leinster do it? Can Munster do it? Can an Irish province do it? Absolutely I think we can.
“It’s not going to be easy but I think the model in Ireland is still the right model and the reason we’ve all committed to staying is because we all believe in the quality of the players that we’ve got.”
Lancaster cited the fine margins on Sunday, be it within or outside their control such as absentees compounded by the loss of Rhys Ruddock, but noted that Leinster have lost just one pool match in his five seasons and pointed to the wins over Toulouse, Saracens and Exeter amongst others.
“On this day we didn’t do it but when you look at the age profile of the Leinster squad, the players that were missing, the players that I know will benefit from this experience, there’s absolutely no reason why we can’t be at the top table of Europe in my mind - no reason at all.
“But it’s tough, it’s very tough and when you’re playing against these powerful teams you need to nail your moments and you need to play a game that plays to our strengths.
“But equally when you’ve got teams that are going to go hard at every breakdown and every contest is slow ball and the referee referees hard to start with but then there probably was a change there as well and that’s ultimately the bits you need to get right as well.
“We need to be better and more accurate, but it’s doable for sure. For sure.”
Analysing Sunday’s defeat, Lancaster admitted “the disappointing thing in the first-half was they got their 12 points without having to do too much” before citing “some key moments” in the second-half.
“Contact-wise we dropped off a couple of tackles on Skelton, there was a scrum penalty against us. I thought the James Lowe sin-binning was significant and I still to be honest can’t really understand that one. That had a knock-on effect to us and getting out of our half harder, and we probably needed to vary things a bit more.
“The actual intent of what we were trying to achieve was right but just ultimately we lost too many collisions in that third quarter.”
Lancaster was speaking from his hotel room in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Stillorgan, where the travelling party of 46 which returned from La Rochelle on Sunday are quarantining for five nights, commuting from there solely to their UCD base for training.
To date there has not been one reported instance of Covid-19 being transmitted on the pitch, in any professional team sport
This is the first time the Leinster squad have been obliged to do this, despite having been to Italy (twice), Scotland, Wales (three times) England and France previously since last August.
At the behest of the Department of the Taoiseach, Leinster have to foot the bill of €30,000. The party of 46 was, as usual, PCR tested twice in the week before departure, all of which were negative, to play against a La Rochelle team who also had two rounds of tests, all of them with negative results.
To date there has not been one reported instance of Covid-19 being transmitted on the pitch, in any professional team sport. The squad stayed in a hotel in La Rochelle, went to the ground and returned via charter after the game.
Since the resumption last August, Leinster have played 27 matches, have undergone over 4,000 tests and have had three negative results.
Hard not to think this five-day quarantine is largely for optics.