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Monday 26 September 2016

Leinster at the crossroads

Coach O'Connor will lead 'robust' review of club as season grinds to halt

Devin Toner, Leinster, following his side's defeat
Devin Toner, Leinster, following his side's defeat

Leinster's fall from supremacy has been swift, completed with a thumping up in bouncing Belfast on Friday night.

It was a night of firsts, the first time the soon-to-be former champions have failed to make the semi-finals in the sixth season of the play-off system.

It was the first time they finished out of the Top-3 since the coronation of their winning culture was announced at the 2009 Heineken Cup final in Murrrayfield, their breakthrough moment as on organisation.

It was also the first time since 2004 that they have come close to their God-awful eighth place ending to 2003/2004.

That does bring pause for more than thought.

It is bound to bring on a deep and lasting review of where it has all gone wrong.

The mirror is the only place for coach and players to look.

Captain Jamie Heaslip is right, to a certain extent - the 'noise' outside the environment has to be considered irrelevant.

However, the noise inside it has to be pitched with naked and brutal honesty in a club built on the back of regular heartbreak.

Those that have been through the lean times will will wince at that mature recollection and dread the return to mediocrity.

The hardcore element that took Leinster to the pinnacle of European rugby is not out there on the pitch any more.

no substitute

The reality is there is no substitute for the extended excellence of Brian O'Driscoll, Isa Nacewa, Felipe Contepomi, Jonathan Sexton, Shane Horgan, Leo Cullen, Nathan Hines, all soon to be joined by Shane Jennings and Gordon D'Arcy.

More specifically, six of this elite band of nine occupied jerseys ten-to-fifteen at a time before Leinster's back-play disintegrated.

"It's not good enough by anyone's standard, to be fair, the results across the course of it with and without players," said O'Connor.

"We need to look at it and review it and make sure that we're better."

The Australian has been honest in his appraisal of what last week Rob Kearney agreed would be an unacceptable season, should Leinster be out of the running with two rounds of the PRO12 remaining.

That unpalatable fact materialised with The Ospreys' 31-23 win at Cardiff on Saturday. The weight of criticism has been heavy.

"That goes with the territory," said O'Connor.

"It's a good side. It's rich in history and tradition. The expectation is very high.

"It is my responsibility to deliver on that.

"At stages, across the group, we haven't done that. We need to ask questions and be robust with the outcome."

"We've got to make sure that we finish the season strong and that we stick true to our values," said O'Connor.

The primary value is surely everyday excellence and dedication.

This is most easily identified in the accuracy of work and, sadly, inaccuracy has been the most common and commented on theme of the season.

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