Matt O’Connor feels positive ahead of Castres’ challenge

Leinster head coach refuses to dwell on bad luck and expects his side to deliver in France

Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor: “There is no point worrying about anything beyond Castres. You go to Castres, you win, you’re in control of your own destiny. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

The fates seem to be conspiring against Leinster. While they still have their destiny in their own hands, unlike this point last year, that latest Aviva loss to Northampton leaves them sixth in the pecking order of pool leaders. The ERC and Sky have also conspired to deal them a five-day turnaround incorporating a trip home from Sunday's game away to Castres, whereas others enjoy seven and eight-day gaps between games.

Yet there is not much point in them dwelling on that, rather they focus on storming Castres’ Stade Pierre-Antoine fortress, where the reigning French champions are unbeaten in 18 competitive games dating back to December 2012. For Matt O’Connor, the equation is simple.

“You gotta win two games. There is no point worrying about anything beyond Castres. You go to Castres, you win, you’re in control of your own destiny and that’s all we’re focused on.”

Nor would the five-day turnaround between these final pool games impact on his selection. “Not necessarily. It probably comes into the training volume as much as anything else and making sure that that the guys have got plenty in their legs certainly for Sunday . . .


“They’re a good side. They’re big. They’re physical. They lose very rarely there. We’ve got to make sure that we are peaking on Sunday. You get the result on Sunday, it changes it slightly, doesn’t it?”

Threatening upset
Castres gave note of their threat in the sides' meeting at the RDS last October, when threatening an upset, but by contrast they have won only one of nine competitive games on the road this season.

At the Stade Pierre-Antoine, “they play a little bit more” according to O’Connor. “That is as reflective in their selection, as anything. That is usually a pretty good indicator of them. Ospreys, Northampton – Clermont got a draw there – [have shown] there’s opportunities there if you’re good enough.”

“That is the challenge for us, is making sure that you don’t give them leg-ups with our inaccuracy and they’re very, very good at spotting a weakness. They aren’t looking to score five or six tries. They’re looking to score one or two and kick their goals and make it really difficult for the opposition.”

“The guys have been to France a lot. There is a lot of provincial and Test level playing in France. You gotta get your head around that. You gotta understand what you have to deliver on across the course of the contest. A lot of those things are really hard physical things. But, if you can match them there, you’re in with a chance.”

Unnerving insight
Leinster have no fresh injuries arising from last week's win in Connacht, while Fergus McFadden should be in the mix for their final pool game on Friday week at home to the Ospreys. However that defeat to Northampton was an unnerving insight into life without Seán O'Brien for the rest of the pool stages, and perhaps the remainder of the season and even beyond.

It would require a group effort in O'Brien's "world-class" amalgam of carrying and defensive intimidation to compensate, said O'Connor, most probably with Jordi Murphy again lining up at openside alongside Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip, who assumed more ball-carrying in Galway.

“What Jamie does particularly well is bring other players into the game,” said O’Connor. “If he’s got Seánie on his shoulder, who will carry the ball through a brick wall for him, he’ll use him. If that doesn’t happen to be there and there’s other skills in and around him, if Jamie’s the best bloke to carry the ball for us, he’ll stand up and carry ball.

“But I think we are good in the sense that in Jack McGrath and Seán Cronin and Mike McCarthy and Jordi Murphy, there’s a lot of blokes that’ll stick their hand up to carry the ball for us. I don’t think we’ll be found wanting.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times