JIMMY GOPPERTH HAS answered questions all season about his position as Leinster’s first choice out-half. The New Zealander invariably got the nod at 10 for Leinster’s big matches and so it proved on Saturday as he helped his team retain their league title.
Gopperth was brought in as out-half competition to Ian Madigan and provided it in spades — starting 18 of his 29 matches in blue. In the final, he chipped in with 14 points, made a crucial turnover in the first half, pinned Glasgow back with smart, tactical kicking and made a memorable break soon after Niko Matawalu was turned over on the Leinster line.
“When you’ve got the advantage, you’ve got to try and push the envelope,” he said. “I was fortunate enough that space was there. That’s the great thing about Leinster, we try to have a go from anywhere and ride the chances when they come. It was an aggressive play. Coming from real pressure being put on us and being able to turn it on them. It was a big turning point.”
While Madigan was off on Ireland duty, the 31-year-old formed bonds, and playing partnerships, with the wider squad. Speaking after his assured outing at the RDS, Gopperth was quick to pay tribute to those players.
“It was a final; that’s how finals are won,” he said. “A lot of pressure and commitment from both sides. I felt, in the last 20 minutes, we had a lot of desire, really wanted it as a group. That showed in the end.
We talked about it inside [the dressing room]. It’s the guys that were out there in the middle of winter, who went down to Dragons — not a very nice place to play. The team that went to Zebre and played, when Ireland were playing, in front of three people. It’s the whole squad, it has been a tough year but we’ve still got a lot of growth coming into next year.”
“I suppose people are going to talk about transition now as a few big guys have left. But you look down the whole squad and you see the A guys have won the British & Irish Cup. They’ve been outstanding and every day those guys are at training, pushing us hard.
“There’s a couple of guys pushing really hard for that senior squad and with another couple of [signings] coming in, I think we’re pretty comfortable.”
While Matt O’Connor remarked that he had been nagging the IRFU to allow a raft of new signings, Gopperth believes the likes of Noel Reid and Brendan Macken could be the future of the Leinster midfield.
“They’ve been outstanding all season,” he said. “They’re local lads and that is who you want to bring in, just like Brian [O'Driscoll] was when he was a younger fella. We’ve enough there in the squad to fill the slot so it is just a matter of who puts their hand up and go through.”