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Friday 24 November 2017

Collapse of scrum ultimately sucked the life out of Blues' brave challenge

Leinster bowed out of this year's Heineken Cup with their reputation and pride intact. Although there were costly errors, added to the fact that certain individuals did not show up on the day, ultimately it was the complete collapse of their scrum that did most of the damage to the psyche of the Leinster pack.

The level to which they were dismantled really surprised me. The coach-in-waiting, Joe Schmidt, at least will know where the main areas of improvement are needed.

When I saw the rain before the match my confidence grew. Considering Leinster's build-up to the game and recent form, I never thought their approach was going to mirror the one of 2006. The defensive effort that was going to be needed was given a boost by the wet conditions. Our players, who would normally prefer a drier ball, deep down must have felt a little more confident when they woke up on Saturday morning. The defence early on -- especially out wide -- was excellent, the outside-in-type defence instigated by O'Driscoll worked well, forcing the Toulouse players to turn back on the inside where a solid line confronted them more often than not. Shane Jennings, before his unfortunate departure, had been at the forefront of this effort, his workrate was immense. The most disappointing aspect was the ease at which penalty opportunities were afforded to the French. Despite Leinster having the lion's share of possession and territory in the first half, they often looked too frantic. There seemed to be no real purpose to many of their plays and, with the indisciplined defence, you sensed that the pressure was always on them to force the game.

Toulouse, on the other hand, were not fazed by the poor conditions; they adapted impressively and had a purpose and ease about what they were doing. Their edge and composure in the scrum and lineout led directly or indirectly to all of the penalty opportunities that David Skrela duly converted. It was clear early on that they were prepared to win ugly.

I cannot explain why Leinster went backwards in the scrum at such a rate of knots on so many occasions. They could well have been picturing a different game in the lead-up with a drier ball and threats elsewhere.

However, surely they must have known that the Castres scrum in a Top 14 match the previous week had also taken a bit of a pasting.

Shaun Berne and Rob Kearney deserve special mention as their kicking kept Leinster in touch throughout. It would not have mattered if Jonny Sexton or even Rocky Elsom had been playing, the Blues were well beaten on the day.

The Blues still have much to play for and a league championship and semi-final of the Heineken Cup will not be a bad return for the '09 season. It would be overly dramatic to call it the end of an era but, from a coaching perspective, it will be interesting to see what direction Schmidt will take this team.

The recruitment process, for a start, will be vital to the progression of the side next term.

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