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Jacques Nienaber says Leinster got it wrong in three areas against Toulouse

Defeat in the Champions Cup final will not leave Leinster players emotionally scarred, says the World Cup-winning Springbok coach

Leinster have little time to execute the emotional swing from the gloom of defeat in last Saturday’s Champions Cup final to the positive energy needed to win on Friday against Connacht in the United Rugby Championship.

They must try to sharply grieve, learn and turn away from Toulouse. There is no alternative.

Moving forward and identifying the problem areas is part of the job of double World Cup winner Jacques Nienaber. The Leinster defence coach has pored over the 100 minutes or so of action from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and has broken down the Leinster failures into three areas.

Close your eyes and the affable coach could have been wearing a white laboratory coat as he coldly explained where Leinster came up short.

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“You try to look at it as unemotional as possible, and there’s a lot of things,” said Nienaber. “But I think there’s probably three things that stand out.”

The first is blindingly obvious.

“The first one is did you win the game? No,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing and the most important one.

“Then the second one, I would say our discipline, but not necessarily discipline as in giving penalties away. I think we probably were a little bit more disciplined than they were in terms of penalty count, but discipline in terms of keeping continuity with ball in hand. We gave too many turnovers away, so that’s what I mean by discipline.

“And then the third is continuity, our breakdown, and there credit should probably go to Toulouse and how they slowed our ball down, so we struggled to generate consistent quick ball, especially when we got into their 22, where we couldn’t generate quick ball and that gave them time to set.

“Those are the three glaring issues, I would say, if you look at it from a completely unemotional point of view and just from a rugby point of view.”

Nienaber said he understood why some people might talk of the emotional scar tissue caused by losing three finals in a row, but another aspect of his job is to discredit that opinion. After such a bruising defeat, coaches have limited options in how they can straighten a team bent out of shape.

And for that Nienaber employs another weapon from his glittering armoury: philosophy. He pointed out that he was not with Leinster for the previous two defeats against La Rochelle.

“Does it build up a question of a mental scar? I don’t know, and my personal take is when the past comes knocking on the door, don’t even open it, because the past has nothing new to tell you,” he said. “It’s going to tell you that you lost a previous final and it’s got no bearing on what happens tomorrow or the day after. The past is the past and it’s done.

“So, I would hope that it wouldn’t [leave a scar] because it doesn’t. I mean the fact that you had a good game in a World Cup final in 2019 doesn’t mean you’re going to have a good World Cup final in 2023. It’s got nothing to do with it. You have to perform. So, me personally, I don’t see that and I’d tell that to the players.”

Nienaber also knocked back people who criticised Leinster for kicking penalties to touch on Saturday instead of trying to move the scoreboard with points. He said that criticism did not withstand examination.

“I saw people saying something about nine kickable penalties and I went through every single one,” said Nienaber. “I think we talk about four penalties [that might have been kickable] and from those four, one was on the 15, one was probably 10 metres from the touchline and the other two were between the touchline and the 5m.

“Every kicker, and we as coaches, know what their success rate is between the two 15s, between the 15 and the 5, and what their success rate is between the 5 and the touchline. So, they know it, we know it and it’s something you just plot. It’s on a beautiful graph. Are you going for the posts or are you going to back yourself in the corner with the maul?”

Now Connacht. How does Nienaber see that? As “an opportunity”, of course.

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times