MATT O’CONNOR HAS just finished his first season at Leinster as a league winner but is acutely aware the Heineken Cup is the high-water mark of success.
The former Leicester Tigers coach guided the Blues to the RaboDirect Pro12 title on Saturday but admitted his squad was not strong enough in the Heineken Cup this season. With the likes of Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen retiring, Leinster will need more than new signings Kane Douglas [lock] and Sean MacCarthy [prop] to compete with Europe’s elite in the new Champions Cup.
O’Connor declared, “I’d like to bring in five or six but that is never going to happen.” He added, “I’m arguing every day with the IRFU to make sure we’re good enough to win Europe. That’s the reality. Whether it happens or not, I don’t know.”
Asked if the current squad is not good enough to challenge for Heineken Cups, the Australian remarked, “We didn’t win [this year], did we? You’d have to say yes [we're not good enough].”
One area O’Connor remains restless about is the Leinster midfield. O’Driscoll and Eoin O’Malley have retired and while they have earned glowing compliments, neither Brendan Macken or Noel Reid made the bench for the Pro12 final. O’Connor has not ruled out another shopping trip abroad to shore up midfield. ”We’re looking at options all the time,” he said. It’s important that we get the fit right.
Culturally, it is such an important slot. The 13 jersey has been such an iconic slot for Leinster for a long time. We need to make sure that we get that right. As soon as we get that outside slot allotted, whether it is an outside body, you guys will be the first to know. Guaranteed.”
O’Connor praised ‘international class’ Zane Kirchner, who scored two tries to end his debut season on a high, and promised Leinster would be a much better footy side in 12 months. Assessing his first season at the helm, he said, “You can only beat what’s in front of you. We lost away to Toulon, in a tough place against a really, really good side.
“There were certain elements in this room that wanted to write us off — [saying] that we’re in transition, we’re not good enough and all the things that go with that — but Toulon are a good side and they showed that last week in the Heineken Cup final. We weren’t as good as we needed to be and that still hurts the whole group. Beyond that [game], we’ve been better and better.”