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23rd May 2023

New Zealand pundits label Irish rugby “predictable” as they discuss Leinster’s final defeat

Patrick McCarry

“We knew exactly how they were going to play.”

The word ‘bottling’ was mentioned, but only in the YouTube title for the clip uploaded from Sky New Zealand’s show, The Breakdown. Leinster deserve better than that.

Last summer, Kiwi pundits held their arms aloft and declared that Andy Farrell’s Ireland had properly schooled their All Blacks side. Ireland had fallen 1-0 down in that Test Series but rolled the ABs twice in the space of eight days to clinch an historic series victory.

Just over 10 months on, though, and many of those same Ireland players are now being called out for not being clinical, or physical, enough to close out their Champions Cup final while wearing Leinster blue. Leo Cullen’s side were 17-0 up against La Rochelle but fell to a 27-26 defeat and only scored three points in the entire second half.

We spotted this RugbyPass clip, taken from the full broadcast of The Breakdown, and our eye was drawn to the title – What Leinster ‘bottling’ the Champions Cup final means for New Zealand rugby.

However, after a full watch of the clip, the word ‘bottling’ was not mentioned much. It may have been someone getting carried away when posting to YouTube as the worst critique of Leinster was that their game – and, by extension, Ireland’s – was somewhat “predictable”.

LeinsterCaelan Doris of Leinster is tackled by Levani Botia of La Rochelle during the Heineken Champions Cup Final, at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

La Rochelle figured out Leinster rush defence

Breakdown host Kirtsy Stanway praised both sides for providing a rugby spectacle that was befitting of the occasion, with former All Blacks (and Connacht) star Mils Muliaina echoing those sentiments. “That game was awesome,” he proclaimed.

“Two contrasting styles,” said another former AB, Jeff Wilson, “and then La Rochelle come over the top. It’s Ireland. Leinster is Ireland, let’s be honest about it! 14 of the 15 starting players are Ireland [internationals] and they play like Ireland.”

Wilson noted how La Rochelle started playing off second ball-carrying options that were coming from depth and starting to pierce the Leinster defensive line. “Johnny Sexton was not playing in this game,” he added, “so, all of a sudden, they lost that little bit of control and I think you saw that this is both Ireland [Leinster] and France [La Rochelle] and how they are going to play.”

John Kirwan, a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 1987, believes both Ireland and France ‘have done an amazing job’ in becoming the standard-bearers in world rugby, even with their contrasting styles.

The panel then turned focus on how the All Blacks, heading into the World Cup, cope with the rush defence of an Ireland side and that blunt-force trauma game that France gravitate towards. That ability to execute under pressure, says Wilson, will be vital if New Zealand are to get greedy and win their fourth World Cup.

“We’ve just watched a Champions Cup final and we knew exactly how they were going to play,” Kirwan opined, “so know they [Ireland and France] are being predictable.”

Andy Farrell and his coaching staff will have watched that Champions Cup final closely, themselves, and will be keen to add some wrinkles to Ireland’s game-plan as we head into the World Cup. Farrell will be aware from his time under Joe Schmidt how closely studied nations are when they start picking up consistent wins.

Add the likes of Mack Hansen, Peter O’Mahony, Conor Murray, Bundee Aki, Stuart McCloskey and Finlay Bealham to the mix and Ireland should have more than a few tricks up their sleeve.


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