LEINSTER’S STYLE OF play has undergone something of a transformation in the last year under head coach Matt O’Connor.
While notions that Joe Schmidt’s Leinster played free-flowing attacking rugby at all times are slightly on the romantic side, there are obvious differences in how the New Zealander set his team up.
O’Connor’s first season in charge of the eastern province saw emphasis placed on additional line speed in defence, while the set piece play was one of the stand-out features of their run to a Pro12 title.
Mick Dawson, who has been Leinster chief executive since 2001, feels the Australian has been intelligent in focusing on such elements of the game and says he expects to see more of O’Connor’s influence in 2014/15.
I really think that winning is where the fans are at. Obviously, you get some criticism from time to time if the team don’t play as attractively as they can. But I think it was very important during the Michael Chieka ere that we had conversations about needing to have a hard edge as well.
“You have to learn how to win 9-8, as opposed how to win 43-34. The 9-8 victories are just as important as the big ones and I think the supporters understand that.
“It’s a lovely notion that everybody plays this brand of attacking rugby, but rugby is a fairly attritional and fairly competitive sport, and if you’re not competitive up front, you’re not going to be able to do that. I think the supporters understand that.
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“Every coach has his own style. I think Matt came in at a time where it was very difficult. He came in after a very successful period with Joe and I think he’s done fantastically well. He was handed the players, handed staff and he’s coped very well with that. I think you’ll see more and more of Matt’s personality in the team in the next year or so.”
Late last season, O’Connor made ambiguous comments around the issue of the IRFU not allowing Leinster to sign more non-Irish qualified players, even if Kane Douglas arrives from the Waratahs soon.
Dawson reveals that he will meet with the IRFU’s new Performance Director David Nucifora this week to discuss that issue, but points out that the relationship between the province and Ireland’s rugby governing body is a strong one.
The province and the country are always going to to be slightly at variance with one another. Obviously we’d like the players to play more for us, and the national team want them to be ready and fit for the national team.
“It’s about working together, and I think if you look at some of the other unions and the shenanigans that go on there, there’s a very good relationship between us and the IRFU.”