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Brian O'Driscoll | Pro 14 is 'poor' and Leinster left unprepared for physical tests

Ciaran Bradley
Ciaran Bradley

19:47 4 May 2021

Brian O'Driscoll believes that the lack of competition within the Pro 14 setup has been a contributing factor in Leinster's recent Champions Cup shortfalls.

Leinster's defeat to La Rochelle means that they have not featured in the showpiece final since 2018, and he was quick to credit Ronan O'Gara's side.

Brian O'Driscoll on ROG

"It really is [dreamland stuff]," O'Driscoll said of O'Gara's side.

"He'll have taken a great deal of satisfaction from beating Leinster from the tradition and history he's had with Leinster, but also in the knowledge that they've been one of the best teams in Europe for the last three or four years.

"They know that they've been able to delve into a particularly great performance to better them. They go into a final with nothing to lose. Toulouse are going for their fifth title, they have got all the history there, but you look at that La Rochelle defence and the other components that they build their attacking game on. I tell you what, it'll take a hell of a performance from Toulouse in Twickenham to beat them in a few weeks' time.

"Toulouse are very good, and they can mix it up as well. But the miserly aspect of the La Rochelle defence was the point of difference that I came away from thinking that I wasn't anticipating really good tackle technique, really good decisions, really great line-speed and being able to cover the backfield.

"They kind of got everything right, and at one point Leinster had to play deep in their own territory because La Rochelle had loads of numbers in the backfield. Yet their 12 players in the frontline felt like they were doing the job of 14 or 15.

"It was a performance definitely built on defence and they definitely took their opportunities very well, coasting to victory in the end."

Pro 14

Brian O'Driscoll believes that the lack of competition in domestic competition is playing a major part.

"Unless you find yourself in those circumstances a couple of times a year, it is very hard to prep yourself for it when the chips are down. You have got people a little bit of their game, so there are multiple factors at work there.

"There is an issue with the Pro 14, we have said it for a while. We've been trying to promote it as not so bad, but it's a poor, poor tournament. The quality is very poor. You look at what the English and French teams are having to deliver week on week, even though the Premiership has been very good, it is a dogfight.

"Leinster have won the Pro 14 the last few years at a canter, using 59 players. That just shouldn't happen when you're able to delve that deep into your academy and sub-academy and produce try bonuses almost every game. What are you learning from that?

"You only learn from better teams; at the moment, other teams are learning from them and getting better as a result. I don't think Leinster are learning a huge amount because of the opposition they are coming up against week-in, week-out.

"Until they get the Stormers, the Sharks, and the other South African teams [...] I think they will get to a plateau level of still feeling that shock when they see the Skeltons, the Itojes or the Vunipolas coming at them."

Kicking game

Brian O'Driscoll feels that Leinster need to employ some elements of a kicking game in matches like Sunday, to get through a rush defence.

"There was one time that Ross Byrne went on penalty advantage to James Lowe and it just dropped a little too far.

"You're reading lots of reports and it feels like doom and gloom for Leinster because it feels the same as Saracens again; they still had lots of access into the game in terms of creating opportunities for themselves. Aside from the first and last ones, they took no others."

Brian O'Driscoll on gap

He also believes that the gap between the two sides is not quite as stark as the performance might suggest.

"When La Rochelle were keeping the scoreboard ticking over the way there with Ihaia West's goal kicks, they built on that - there was a real Munster feel to that. Three, six, nine, try - suddenly you're two scores ahead.

"My feeling is that there is an issue when really physical teams come up against Leinster for sure, but they have the capabilities to see their way through that. They didn't do that on this occasion.

"Semi-final-wise, people are saying Leinster a mile away - they're not. If you flip that fixture and have it in the RDS, Leinster are comfortable favourites and might be able to see that through. You are never that far away; if they went and played La Rochelle again, I really don't think they'd lose by 11 points."

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