‘Stade Français’ owner says he’s willing to invest €100m of his money in five years’
WE KNEW LEINSTER had been left devastated by losing the Champions Cup final to Saracens earlier this month, their first defeat in the European decider after four previous wins, but perhaps we didn’t quite appreciate the extent of the dejection.
James Lowe says it was “a mourning process” for the squad.
Indeed, it required the province to call in a sports psychologist the Monday afterwards in a bid to bring things back into perspective and refocus ahead of what proved to be a successful run-in to the Guinness Pro14.
Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen with the Pro14 trophy. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“Mate, it was like someone blooming passed away,” explained Lowe on Saturday night after Leinster’s 18-15 win over Glasgow in the Pro14 final.
“It was… it was devastation. You know, you work so hard, you get to the last hurdle and we didn’t quite get over it. It still hurts thinking about it.
“A fella came in and just talked to us. It was more about just us, more than anything. We were all ‘what if’, so we managed to just talk things through as a team.
“We opened up as a group, talked about what was needed and it was about putting those word into actions. A lot of very high-profile players probably took it on themselves, the reason why we lost but obviously it comes down to a few moments. We came up short.”
The “moping around” subsided, Leinster bounced back to beat Munster in the Pro14 semi-finals at the RDS and then finished their season on a high at Celtic Park on Saturday.
Some of those involved in Glasgow won’t be seen in Leinster colours until November at the earliest, with Ireland duty now beckoning, meaning a trophy was the ideal way to sign off.
“A lot of the boys will go away now to World Cup camp and it’s great for them but then we’ve got some young players coming through now who will form the basis of our Pro14 team for next season,” said senior coach Stuart Lancaster.
“And a lot of credit should go to them as well, they’re the ones who put Leinster in that position in the first place. You know, when you go through the league games, a lot of the players who didn’t play today are actually the ones that got Leinster into that position.”
While Lancaster didn’t feel that Leinster got 100% towards their goal of delivering a “really complete performance” against Glasgow, there was real champion quality in how they squeezed out the Warriors’ challenge.
Leinster celebrate at Celtic Park. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Leinster had put a major focus on their defence last week and the results were clear.
“I mean, our defence, the way I describe it is that we’re too much Garry Ringrose, we’re too pretty,” said the inimitable Lowe.
“We need to be a bit more Robbie Henshaw because he’s not as pretty as Garry, so that’s how I word it anyway.”
Content to have claimed their 10th major trophy since 2008 – the first of those was a Celtic League under Michael Cheika – Leinster won’t be long in thinking ahead to their next opportunity to grab more silverware.
Lancaster and head coach Leo Cullen will be coveting a return to the peak of Europe, of course, but they understand the challenges that lie ahead.
“If you go back to 10 years ago, Cheiks was there and we were battling so hard to get to that point,” said Cullen. “Joe [Schmidt] comes in and there’s a real uplift during that period but then the game in Europe started to change quite drastically.
“If you think Saracens, Toulon and the models of those teams.
“Look at Stade Français as an example: their owner says he’s willing to invest €100m of his own money in five years.
“In terms of competition in the market place and the types of players you can bring in, it has big knock-on consequences for everyone. How that all goes is anyone’s guess.”
While he understands the value of experience, of which Leinster will lose some with Sean O’Brien and Jack McGrath departing, Cullen stressed that Leinster will stick to their model of “investing heavily in the young guys.”
Sean O’Brien lifted the trophy for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
Lancaster was in agreement, pointing to the likes of Caelan Doris and Max Deegan as important figures for the start of next season when Leinster will be missing so many players due to the World Cup.
Integrating them all back into the set-up in November will be another real challenge for Leinster and other provinces and clubs.
But Cullen is also excited about the latest freshening-up in the coaching staff, with Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde due to join after the World Cup.
“It’s about making sure those players get some quality coaching,” said Cullen. “Stuart’s been amazing for the group in terms of what he delivers as a coach on the field.
“Felipe [Contepomi]‘s been a brilliant addition. We’re going to lose John Fogarty [to Ireland] but Robin McBryde comes in next year. A fresh voice, fresh ideas.
“He’s in the hotbed of the Rugby World Cup and might have things we can learn from that as a group.
“[Contact skills coach] Hugh Hogan has been a great addition as well. You hear a lot of
players talk about the work he does with them individually to make sure guys are as good as they can be.
“That’s the big crux for us – we need to give them everything possible so they can deliver.
“Then it’s just feeding into the culture part of it, the support and what it represents for the players to play on the weekend – that they understand what their piece in the bigger jigsaw is.
“You’ve guys that are highly motivated playing for this team.”
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