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Jackman posits interesting theory as to why Leinster's season flopped

By Ian Cameron
Devin Toner, right, and Seán Cronin of Leinster after the United Rugby Championship Semi-Final match between Leinster and Vodacom Bulls at the RDS Arena in Dublin. (Photo By David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The Bulls 27 – 26 victory over Leinster on Friday night blew apart the established URC pecking order and there will have been plenty of hand wringing and head scratching in Dublin this weekend as a result.

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Having won the competition four years on the trot, getting turfed out in the semi-final stage after being physically dominated in Dublin is a new, uncomfortable reality for a Leinster side used to getting their own way. Coming just two weeks after a similarly galling Champions Cup Final loss to La Rochelle, it guarantees a summer of soul searching for the Irish heavyweights.

In the aftermath of the boilover victory, the Irish commentariate have focused in a number of odd selections by Leo Cullen and his coaching ticket and Bernard Jackman believes there may in fact be evidence of a lack of confidence in their wider squad as the campaign reached its climax.

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Leinster used 60 players this season and largely navigated the URC and the Heineken Champions Cup competitions with alternate sides. Yet Jackman doesn’t buy that there’s full belief in the wider squad.

“You have to give massive credit to the Bulls. Jake White knows how to win knockout rugby,” Jackman told RTE Sport in the aftermath of the loss. “They came here without any current Springboks. Had a six day turnaround and put in place a template to beat Leinster.

“I think when Leinster review this they are going to look at selection. Should they have started Johnny? I think if they started Johnny they win. Hugo Keenan was rested.

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“A really interesting thing I’ve picked up around Leinster is a lack of faith in their bench.

“Either they have data to show that ‘Don’t use the bench’ and it just hasn’t worked in two games, or there’s a lack of faith there.

“It’s become a 23-man game and if you look at someone like Joe McCarthy, who there is a lot of hype about; big powerful young lock, exactly the type of player you need against a La Rochelle or a Bulls. He had four minutes against La Rochelle, he got five minutes against Leicester, and four minutes against Toulouse.

“Luke McGrath got five minutes against La Rochelle and ten minutes last night [against the Bulls]. Cian Healy got two minutes last night. Sean Cronin didn’t come on.

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“So it’s a big ask for a pack or a team who were maybe underpowered phyiscally, to go 80. You saw the Bulls, their frontrow did brilliantly. Sixty minutes. Bang [they were taken off]. So that’s something that maybe they’ll re-analyse.

“Maybe they’re ahead of the curve and they’ve just been unlucky in those two games, but while they’ve played 60 players over the course of the season, that they haven’t had a 23 that they’ve had massive faith in is strange.”

Former Leinster and Ireland No.8 Jamie Heaslip says that the men in blue are being trully challenged physically for the first time in a long time. “No one has challenged them physically until this year. What’s mirrored in Europe over the last four years is that when they are against these sides that can dominate them physically, they don’t get their way, they don’t dominate the tempo of the game.

“Or when the script is flipped on them in a game and they’re behind a team and in a pressure cooker environment where they can’t play this free-flowing rugby or it’s not sticking. They seem to come a little undone.

“Players need to take responsiblity as well. There’s a cohort there that have to will take another really harsh lesson and figure out and learn how they win these types of games. It can’t always be free-flowing rugby.

“The management have to take responsibility here as well. If you keep doing the same things, teams will eventually figure you out. That’s sport. You’ve got to tweak it a little bit.”

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