Stuart Lancaster: Leinster still have plenty to work on

Head coach frustrated at conceded try during mammoth Champions Cup win at Exeter

Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster is focusing on the work that must be done after his side’s Champions Cup win over Exeter Chiefs. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster is focusing on the work that must be done after his side’s Champions Cup win over Exeter Chiefs. Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images

 

The Exeter try is niggling away at Stuart Lancaster. Not the monumental defensive display at Sandy Park or the gang tackling inches from the Leinster try line last Sunday evening. The former England coach even glossed over the 44 phases leading up to Jack Conan squeezing over in this flag planting 18-8 victory at the home of the English Premiership champions.

Lancaster still sees the malfunctioning defence leading up to James Short’s try.

A coach’s life is seemingly doused in what can make his team better. Even Leinster, even now.

“I know we got plenty to work on because we conceded a try that still frustrates me now even as I think about it,” said the 48 year old at the Bank of Ireland Leinster Schools Cup draw.

For Short’s try, Isa Nacewa covered the man who didn’t get the ball, Garry Ringrose turned in on Gareth Steenson, who appeared to be covered by Sean O’Brien, as the former Ulster outhalf’s pass broke the line. What went wrong?

“A catalogue of things really. Little things we know how to fix. I was disappointed we conceded it but overall I’m delighted with the performance.”

A neat theory exists after the weekend – with Leinster beating the Chiefs, Munster overwhelming Leicester and Ulster catching Harlequins at The Stoop – are the Irish provinces superior to these Premiership giants.

“Wasn’t it the other way around two years ago?” Lancaster remembers.

“It comes in cycles. I look at the strength in depth that Leinster have and with the quality of young players coming through the programme there is no doubt Leinster should be competitive in Europe.

“It was a good weekend for the Pro 14 in Europe. The Ospreys had a good win [over Northampton] as well. But a lot can happen in a week.”

Leinster are forewarned by 2013 when they looked unbeatable at Franklin’s Gardens only to be caught by Northampton in front of a beer-swilling, Christmas jumper-laden Aviva Stadium a week later. That cost Matt O’Connor a home quarter-final and Toulon duly had their number under April sun.

Johnny Sexton will not train until later in the week, due to a recurring calf problem, while Rhys Ruddock is out for the foreseeable future with a hamstring injury.

“Rhys will be a while,” Lancaster confirmed. “We won’t have him in the next few weeks certainly. We are optimistic about Johnny.”

James Short scores a try during the Champions Cup clash. Photo: Dan Sheridan /Inpho
James Short scores a try during the Champions Cup clash. Photo: Dan Sheridan /Inpho

Dan Leavy is poised to come straight into the team at blindside but Exeter will take heart. The Leinster starting XV, or any team on the planet for that matter, changes drastically when Sexton is removed from pivot.

“He is playing at the top of his game and that takes him into a world class category. But we got to give Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery great credit. Particularly Ross, I thought him and Jamison Gibson Park were really composed in seeing out the game when Johnny came off. And Isa Nacewa had to kick the goal.

“But Johnny is a key man, he is not only playing well, he is, most importantly, leading.”

Lancaster used this performance to explain how Leinster have grown since the Pro 14 semi-final loss to Scarlets in May.

“The try still rankles with me but to go through 44 phases, the way we controlled the ball in that area of the field, without giving a penalty away, without knocking the ball on in difficult conditions when you’ve got big defenders coming into you hard; we achieved the win by playing a different style than Leinster would be renowned for.

“Leo and John Fogarty were delighted, and rightly so because of the control that we put into that moment.”

The wonder is if Leinster can do what they did to Exeter without having to trudge, albeit magnificently, through 44 gruelling phases.

Lancaster guides us towards rugby union’s innovators – and how the All Blacks are winning Test matches by this same method nowadays.

“In order to score a try with less phases in that area of the field you’ve got to take some high risks and try and beat them around the edges or chip over the top but why take that risk in the way they’re defending?

“You’ve got to narrow their defence up somehow and the way to do it near their line was to play tight around the fringes, which is what we did.

“You go back to the All Blacks in the first Test against the Lions. How did they break the Lions’ line speed? They attacked around the first five defenders each side of the ruck consistently and ultimately that won them the game.

“They’re not a bad role model to follow. Sometimes you play what’s in front of you and do what you need to win.”

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