A NEW RUGBY season beckons. A fresh start, new faces and limitless possibilities.
Even for Leinster, having been there and (almost) done it all, there’s a literal change of scenery. The province have left behind their base at Riverview in favour of a facility around the corner in UCD.
The carpets retain that freshly-laid smell and feel. The tables are barely used, pristine and polished. An impressionist painting hangs in the hallway; it’s not of water lilies or flower beds, but of an RDS stand awash with waving blue flags.
It’s not a complete overhaul from what they were accustomed, but it’s updated and now enclosed away from public consumption.
The biggest change that could have befallen them, though, was at coaching level. Despite Joe Schmidt’s protestations, speculation linking him with his native Auckland Blues continues.
After all, he’s an ambitious coach and he’s left very little to be achieved in Europe, right?
“To be honest,” Schmidt says, “the objectives have absolutely nothing to do with me. I’ve been a happy passenger on what’s been a really good ride.
“I think the players have really earned everything they’ve got. They’ve really rolled their sleeves up and again this season. We know that we’ve got to go even deeper to the well each time. Inevitably, the more often you’re successful the tougher it gets because people line you up to knock you over.”
It’s not just on the pitch that competition is fierce. Out of season and off the field, the rugby world has been trying to size up what has transformed Leinster. Schmidt is included in that list for many, but as ever, the Kiwi prefers to deflect the praise.
“It’s more competitive to keep the players that we’ve got now than it was previously.
“Because other clubs recognised that there’s some value in the people that we’ve got and with the staff at Leinster: Jason Cowman leading the strength and conditioning group, the medical team led by Arthur Tanner, the other coaches and the analysis group that do a great job for us.
“It’s got a lot less to do with me than people might perceive.”
As was widely reported at the beginning of the summer, Schmidt was able to enjoy a less than ideal break. With his eldest daughter sitting her Leaving Cert, the family was dispersed for all-but two days as he took his half of his children out from under her feet to New Zealand.
“It was nice to go to a big game and not be under massive pressure.” He says of his first hand view of Ireland’s first test (42-10) defeat to the All Blacks.
The pressure was never too far away, Schmidt’s delegation only goes so far. Particularly when it comes to the balancing act of overseas player recruitment.
“I think it was daily phone-calls between myself and Guy Easterby. Jono Gibbes was trying to enjoy himself in Italy and the south of France, but we were going backwards and forwards,”
His semi-holiday is now just a wistful memory. As Sunday’s shine turned to Monday gloom in Dublin there was no mistaking that the new season was now upon us. With a pre-season win, loss and draw behind him, the Kiwi will soon move into his one-game-at-a time mode. But like the players, he needs that first collision to block out some painful memories of a second successive defeat in the Pro12 final.
For this Saturday’s trip to face Llanelli Scarlets, the squad list may be awash with the asterisk of injury troubles, but those who are fit, are young and eager to make their mark.
“(The players) are very refreshed, they can’t wait to get started. Whether you’re a provincial player or an international player there’s a couple of things that you can only bury with your last result.”