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Wednesday 20 September 2017

Disappointing way for Blues to end great era

Some will say that the emotions got the better of this Leinster side on Saturday, you could understand why one could come to such a conclusion, considering all the talk of retirements and departures that preceded the Magners League final.

For a side with so much experience I would not buy into that point of view. Putting it simply, it was a bad day at the office. The more clinical and purposeful side won out on the day.

It does not take away from the fact that it was a very disappointing end to what was a great journey for the current team.

Both sides started brightly. Although the first quarter was error strewn, it was a level up from your normal Magners League game. This was to be expected considering all the international experience that was on show.

While the Ospreys settled into their game, Leinster continued to struggle, especially with their kicking game. They resorted to playing the match in a frenetic manner, often forcing the play from their own half.

An accumulation of dropped passes and silly offloads in the tackle undermined a performance that lacked composure and the leadership of captain Leo Cullen.

The Ospreys looked far more assured in what they were trying to do and on the day had that vital cutting edge in behind, which led to their two first-half tries.

In both attack and defence they had clearly done their homework on players such as Gordon D'Arcy and Brian O'Driscoll, key players that Leinster's gameplan relies so much upon.

Leinster battled until the end as the Ospreys, through the lack of experience in winning championships, retreated into themselves.

They were content to let Leinster attack from deep and their excellent defensive line speed thwarted much of Leinster's ability to create any meaningful phases.

They did concede some silly penalties where Jonny Sexton, who had been imperious from the deadball all evening, kept the Blues in touch throughout.

You felt that had he slotted the most important kick of the day with five minutes to play, Leinster would still have had every chance to steal the spoils.

In the end, though, it was not to be. I did feel for the players who wished so much to sign off on a high, but for the likes of Malcolm O'Kelly, Girvan Dempsey and coach Michael Cheika, their legacies will endure.

For the incoming coach, it will be a big challenge to move this team onwards and upwards over the coming seasons.

From a playing perspective, I think there are ways Leinster can make improvements -- repositioning off the ball and use of possession with a greater sense of spatial awareness are areas that could make a big difference.

Too often when Leinster have come up short in games, it has been through the failure of a one-dimensional approach.

When defences have really stood up to Leinster on the gainline, especially around the midfield, the Blues have often lost their direction.

A more multi-faceted approach would give them more leeway and increase the options available, if the likes of the set-piece and other elements of their game happened to have an off-day.



RAMIFICATIONS

The ramifications that are now likely, due to the reduction of player salaries, means that the future prospects of continued success of the game here are also now in some doubt.

The decisions that the IRFU take in relation to the game over the next 12 months will be vital to continued success of rugby in this country.

One envisages that the French league will become a more dominant feature over the next few seasons, much akin to soccer's English Premier League.

That could well attract many of our players, and the Union would do well not to be too naive to such an idea, regardless of tax incentives available.

I understand that they do have the overall development of the game here to think about, so one does empathise to some extent on why they have to trim down the costs, but there will be a delicate balancing act that will need to be forthcoming.

A successful game that took 10 years to build in this country could all come crashing down in the space of a few seasons unless some wise heads come together in the interim.

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