Habit and experience - Leinster's recipe for success
Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We are what we repeated to do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
Leinster are very clearly in the groove of European winning whilst Sarries are only capable of the occasional performance -the difference is habit. Saracens didn’t play badly on Sunday, much better than a team that only sneaked through the Pool Stage, but they fell short in a twenty-minute second half gear change by Leinster –and that third quarter ended their European Champions Cup defence.
It wasn’t Leinster’s performance of the season either. Nor was it even their injury-free first choice fifteen. Heaslip now retired was paraded, and the likes of Sean O’Brien, Josh Van Der Flier, Jack Conan, Robbie Henshaw, Jordan Larmour were all absent through injury. It was a standout performance from Dan Leavy who has continued his Six Nations form in Europe. At the beginning of the season he may not even have been certain to start, yet he probably now finds himself one of the first names on the team sheet amongst a Leinster backrow embarrassment of riches.
But habit has been only one component of Leinster’s impressive results this season, another’s been experience. In rugby, young players learn much from the experience of others. Leinster retain veterans of their last Europe triumph. Together with other experienced internationals they act as role models, provide advice and guidance. You see that in how they perform individually and as a team -more often than not the right decisions being made at the right times.
I have no doubt that playing alongside David Humphreys was a huge part in my breaking into the Ireland squad. He never tired of steering younger players, was incredibly vocal on the pitch and as the talisman of Ulster’s 1999 European success -everyone listened to what he had to say.
Of course, that doesn’t mean he was beyond being challenged. Over a decade ago Humph, together with then newly arrived Justin Harrison, managed to orchestrate the disappearance of my new BMW from the Ormeau Road in Belfast. In revenge I sought the help of now Ireland captain Rory Best, and his farm’s ready access to manure. I was genuinely worried when the police stopped Rory’s tractor in the early hours of that Monday morning. Rory driving with me crouched down for what felt like hours in the one seat cab. Thankfully it turned out my concerns were ill-founded, when we casually explained to the officers we were off to dump a trailer of manure on Humph’s driveway he just waived us on with a smile. It was the first of many smiles that morning when David Humphreys arrived unusually late for training having eventually dug himself out -I could even detect a faint whiff of rural Ulster on his arrival.
So, the moral of the story is? Even if Jonny Sexton’s teammates are willing to dump shit on his driveway in the early hours of the morning, they still look up to him and really value what they get from playing alongside him.
A single conversation across the table with a wise man is better than ten years mere study of books.
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