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Stephen Jones points finger of blame in Leinster loss

By Ian Cameron
Ross Byrne of Leinster, bottom, looks on during the Investec Champions Cup final between Leinster and Toulouse at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, England. (Photo By Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sunday Times journalist Stephen Jones has pointed the finger of the blame in Leinster’s lastest Investec Champions Cup final loss.

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Toulouse achieved their sixth European rugby title with a 31-22 victory over Leinster at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, decided in extra time.

Antoine Dupont’s exceptional performance was pivotal for the French champions while Thomas Ramos’ crucial kicks pushed them ahead after an 80-minute 15-15 tie. Leinster – facing their third consecutive final defeat after losses to La Rochelle in 2022 and 2023 – must now quickly recover and focus on the United Rugby Championship.

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For controversial pundit Stephen Jones, it seems much of the blame for Leinster’s failure in attack can be laid at the feet of stand-off Ross Byrne.

“Leinster at least tried to use their attacking machine but the truth is that with the rather pedestrian Ross Byrne at fly half they simply do not have the midfield energy and inspiration,” wrote Jones this weekend. “They ran and rucked like crazy, but the edge of inspiration that they needed to pull clear was never present and in fact they were fortunate to be given the equalising penalty at the very end of normal time, which was put over by Ciaran Frawley…

“Even though Leinster have an unfortunate record in finals, they deserved to be as great themselves.

“Even without their normal inspiration and attacking edge, they were almost ferocious and always frantic in trying to ease out the victory that was lurking somewhere out there.”

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While it may have become a cliché to blame Byrne following the retirement of Johnny Sexton (many have done it), Jones isn’t the only critic who believes Leinster’s attack is quite hitting its straps as it did under Stuart Lancaster. This week Brian O’Driscoll told RugbyPass that he was worried about Leinster’s attack under Jacque Nienaber.

Attack

259
Passes
134
184
Ball Carries
113
434m
Post Contact Metres
218m
5
Line Breaks
5

“The evolution of Stuart [Lancaster] from year one through to year seven or eight would have been significant. He took defence and attack, and Jacques has come in and redefined what defence looks like from a Leinster perspective as so much time, effort, and energy will have to have gone into it.

“It’s very hard to then give that same focus towards your attack game when you are kind of reinventing a defensive system. So as a result, the defence and the physicality looks much better this year. Perhaps Leinster’s Achilles’ heel was where it felt teams could physically dominate them.

“Now that is their modus operandi; it’s big, physical teams that they go and dominate but I don’t think that the attack game has quite been as sharp as it has the last two years.”

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Cerebral Leinster head coach Leo Cullen wasn’t throwing the baby out with the bath water after the game, pointing out that his side had once again lost by the finest of margins.

“It comes down to the finest thing,” said Cullen. “There was a drop goal at the end and if that goes a metre to the right then we’re having a very different conversation here. That’s the nature of sport at the top end,” Cullen said.

“I’m not sure the game got away from us. It was a very tight contest. We had some really positive passages of play.

“Toulouse scrambled well and came up with big moments defensively and that was the difference.

“The lads were immense out there and kept firing shots throughout but didn’t get the rewards for lots of difference reasons. We poured a lot into it.

“We just felt we’re so close to breaking them and most people in the stadium would have that sense.”

With silverware still the offing, Leinster – who haven’t had to open the trophy cabinet in three years – won’t have the luxury of feeling sorry for themselves.

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Comments

8 Comments
D
David 28 days ago

If in doubt blame the 10; its one of the most difficult and skilful jobs in team sport. The most vocal critics are usually, at whatever level, those who were never skilful enough to even dream of playing there for the 5D team at school.

F
Ferell 28 days ago

Finals rugby you must take your opportunities for points few weeks ago people were talking about Leinster already won now that they had a world cup winning coach and now….. they were playing great rugby the whole season everybody was happy….finals are their nemesis 🙆🤷

F
Flankly 28 days ago

Leinster failed to convert their opportunities to points. Points per entry (to the opponents 22m area) was around 1.3. You want it to be twice that.

Blaming Byrne avoids the bigger point, namely that the red zone attack was stubbornly try-focused and error-strewn. More x-factor at #10 always helps, but in this case there are plenty of others to blame.

Doris, as captain could have recognized the success of the Toulouse defense and called for kicks at goal, but he persisted with the quest for tries. And there were many Leinster players at fault for the general attacking inaccuracy, and tendency to turn over possession.

It’s too easy to blame Byrne. BOD got it right - the Leinster attack has not maintained its sharp edge, and that’s not something to blame on one player.

The good news is that the defensive redesign seems to have matured sufficiently for the coaching team to direct their energies back towards the attacking side of the ball.

B
Barry 28 days ago

Seems harsh. The game wasn't won until the 95th minute. Leinster could have won it with a drop goal on near 80 minutes. It's just the nature of sport. There has to be a loser in a final. What a game! Better than most internationals.

C
Craig 28 days ago

Guys I really think it's a game of very small margins and knockout rugby still wins apposed to going wide to much to quickly.

R
Roger 29 days ago

From what I read and saw Toulouse struggled with their attacks given that they had two tries denied because of excellent defence. Therefore Nienaber as a defensive coach was superb keeping Toulouse within scoring distance throughout the entire regular part of the game. Leinster always would have been able to score a try and move into the lead if they got the chance.

However, I think Nienaber has fantastic defensive skills, his ability to counter attack still isn't on top. Although granted he was picked as a senior defensive coach so to expect him to be able to plan for attacks as well might be too much. After all, he did manage to get the Springboks to Two World Cup titles. But that was also with the help of a team of coaches who had been together for 6 years.

He has only been with Leinster for one season. Let's see how they can integrate their new found defense with a much sharper or currently existing attack. That should put them on song in next season’s Champions Cup.

M
Mark 29 days ago

Controversial, Jones might be, but he's on the money. That said, Toulouse were better in most positions and seemed far more harmonious than Leinster. The French side looked likely winners from the start.

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