Saturday 22 October 2016

Shortest straw possible for luckless Blues

Leinster’s hunt for head coach hurt by place in ‘Pool of Death’

Jamie Heaslip
Jamie Heaslip

Leinster’s ongoing search for a head coach will not have been helped by drawing European kingpins Toulon, Premiership finalists Bath and the unpredictably exciting Wasps in Pool 5 of the 2015/2016 Champions Cup.

Quickly dubbed ‘The Pool of Death’, the sell-ability of Leinster by their Professional Games Board to any potential employee took a nosedive with the difficulties presented in moving beyond the pool phase of the competition.

There will be the obvious attraction of Paul O’Connell taking Toulon to Dublin, maybe the chance to see new Wasps players Jimmy Gopperth and Brendan Macken and to again encounter fast-improving Bath.

The current coaching ticket of interim head coach Leo Cullen and Head of Fitness Dan Tobin has already been drawing down the conditioning battle plans.

“We are due back for pre-season two weeks from today and the thoughts of Toulon, Bath and Wasps will focus the minds on the work ahead for all of the lads and the schedule that Leo and Dan have set out for us,” said captain Jamie Heaslip.

The confirmation this week of Kurt McQuilkin as defence coach and John Fogarty as scrum coach leaves the most important post to be filled out by a man of suitable leadership.

Ever the optimist, Heaslip chose to embrace the opportunity to renew rivalries with Mike Ford’s Bath, who they edged out in the quarter-final, and Toulon, after pushing them all the way to extra-time in the semi-final.

“Like most of the lads, I was glued to the laptop this afternoon,” he said.

“As much as you look forward to the off-season, it isn’t long before you start looking towards critical dates.

“I suppose from a Leinster point of view that first date was today (Wednesday) and the draw for the Champions Cup.

“Last season was a huge stepping stone for this group of players, reaching the semi-final and pushing Toulon as close as we did. But that is no consolation.

“You ultimately want to reach the biggest stage and, hopefully, after reaching a quarter and a semi the last two years, we can go one better.”

This stated ambition is not just based on smoke and mirrors. There are real reasons why Leinster can recapture the European Cup for the first time in four seasons.    

“The nucleus of this team is very young,” he pointed out.

“The likes of Marty Moore, Jordi Murphy and Jack McGrath were all competing in European semis for the first time.

“That is brilliant experience for those lads.”

The building blocks to be better are in place. As Liverpool football legend Alan Hansen once said to his detriment about Manchester United: ‘you win nothing with kids.’

In general, this has more than a ring of truth.

Leinster do have a core of Ireland internationals, like Seán O’Brien, Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Luke Fitzgerald, Devin Toner and Dave Kearney working in tandem with the foreign flavour of Zane Kirchner, Ben Te’o and Kane Douglas.  

The return of Jonathan Sexton and Isa Nacewa will make for instant impact from a skill and leadership perspective.  

“With Johnny and Isa coming back, and the experience we have gained over the last few seasons, we’d be hopeful of giving a good account of ourselves again next season.”

All they have to do is source the right man for the biggest job of all.

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