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The 'brothers' culture that has been a key part of Leinster's rebuild

‘It’s something the players came up with and we’ve seen that when we’re at our most distressed on the field.’

LEINSTER ARE STANDING in the tunnel at San Mamés in Bilbao, just before taking to the pitch for the Champions Cup final against Racing 92.

The French side draw up alongside them and Isa Nacewa and Johnny Sexton do brief double-takes at the sight of the berets on the Racing players’ heads, but they focus back in on their own thoughts almost immediately.

One of the stadium officials indicates that it’s time to run out and Nacewa says three final words.

“Let’s go, brothers.”

The Leinster team huddle after the game Leinster have had a wider squad focus all season. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It might not sound like much, but it’s a direct insight into the culture that has played a part in Leinster’s return to the peak of European rugby and driven them into Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 final against the Scarlets.

In 2016, Johnny Sexton said, “culturally, we are nowhere near where we were when we were winning those trophies,” referencing Leinster’s European successes in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

The rebuild of Leinster’s cultural standards has been a major part of their growth in the last two years, with the likes of Sexton, Nacewa and coaching pair Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster all part of the process.

The theme of ‘brothers’ has been central this season, a single word that sums up so much of what Leinster want to be.

Respectful of each other, hard-working for each other, happy for each other’s success, a family in which every member is valued.

Moments like Jordi Murphy lifting the Champions Cup trophy have shone a light on Leinster’s ‘brothers’ culture, while their rabidly hard-working defensive efforts have underlined that this squad is truly playing for each other.

Leinster were adamant that they would fly back to Dublin the night of their Champions Cup victory and link up with the ‘A’ team that had lost in the British and Irish Cup final the same day – everyone celebrating the senior team success together.

Leinster celebrate with the European Champions Cup Trophy The province's suited players celebrated as hard as anyone after the Champions Cup final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Perhaps most importantly, it was Leinster’s players who came up with their ‘brothers’ philosophy and all of the many values that go into it.

“I think Leo has been very good at managing and facilitating when it comes to the values of the group, but essentially the players will decide what the values are and how they want to be seen, how they want to act around the place,” explains assistant coach John Fogarty.

“‘Brothers’ is something that they came up with and we’ve probably seen that when we’re at our most distressed on the field. We’ve seen good ‘brothers’ behaviours from players when we’re under pressure.

“Guys getting off the ground as fast as possible, that kind of stuff. I think last weekend against Munster, the lads needed to be tight as a group, get through as a group, win what was going to be a huge game for us.

“I think they displayed those behaviours very well, backing up the Champions Cup final to take on Munster and get through a very tight game.

“It’s an important value that the boys have, it’s their value. They will explain it better to you than I could.”

So we put it to loosehead prop Jack McGrath, who has captained Leinster on several occasions this season.

“He was always a good offloader in his day!” says McGrath with a laugh after being told Fogarty feels he is better placed to explain.

Max Deegan and teammates celebrate winning a penalty in the final moments of the game Leinster celebrate Max Deegan's turnover penalty against Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“No, it’s just something that we have brought in this year. It’s about everyone being on the same level of respect, it’s about ownership around the place.

“It’s worked really well for us and in this competition [the Pro14], we’ve used 55 players throughout the whole competition, so if we go on to win this weekend it’s for all of those guys and for all your mates, the guys you work for day-in, day-out.”

20-year-old Jordan Larmour doesn’t really know anything else but this Leinster environment, this being his first full season with the province’s senior team, but he too stresses the importance of the culture.

“We want to give back more to the fans, be humble, we talk a lot about being brothers and working hard for each other – brother traits like that,” says Larmour.

“Doing extras during the week so you’re prepared for the game, so we talk a lot about those kinds of values and try to do them to the best of our ability.”

And while there are many parts to rugby success – including technical and tactical qualities, physicality, fitness, decision-making, good planning and luck – Leinster have no doubt their improvement culturally has been a key component in their growth.

“It’s part of it, although experience and hurt play into that as well – a trophy hadn’t come through the doors at Leinster for a few years,” says McGrath.

“It’s something that we wanted to put to bed, but that culture has been part of it – there’s always little bits and pieces that accumulate to get you to a certain point.”

One more push for the brothers.

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Murray Kinsella

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