Leinster co-captain James Ryan. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Co-captains approach causing issues for Leinster and match officials

French referee Pierre Brousset refused to speak with co-captain James Ryan during Saturday’s defeat of Sale.

LEINSTER’S NEW CO-CAPTAINS approach is proving trickier to implement on the pitch than the province would have liked.

James Ryan and Garry Ringrose were named co-captains following the retirement of Johnny Sexton and while it’s not a unique idea, it’s one we’re not used to seeing in Irish rugby.

While Ryan and Ringrose are happy to split smaller jobs such as the coin toss and leading out the team on matchday, in an ideal world both would be able to communicate with the referee during games. 

So far, that’s not quite working out.

In both of Leinster’s opening two Champions Cup fixtures, the referee has turned Ryan away when the lock has approached to speak.

Against La Rochelle last weekend English official Matthew Carley told a frustrated Ryan he would no longer interact with him as tempers flared between Leinster and the defending champions. After the game, Cullen admitted it was a scenario which Leinster had not envisaged.

A similar incident occurred during Saturday’s 37-27 defeat of Sale at the RDS.

With Leinster trailing 3-0 after 13 minutes, they won a penalty with Sale pinged for not rolling away. Referee Pierre Brousset then approached Rob du Preez to give the Sale captain a warning, with Ryan waiting to speak with the French official after.

“No, no, no, I don’t chat with you, I chat with 13,” came the reply from Brousset, making it clear he would be dealing with Ringrose, who then informed the referee Leinster would go for the points rather than the corner. Ryan had not appeared to do anything which might have aggravated Brousset beforehand. 

The incident had no major bearing on the course of the game but Leinster will have frustrations about seeing one of their co-captains unable to do the talking for the second week running. 

With the same problem coming up twice now, the province will surely look to clear up any potential issues that match officials might have with their co-captains system going forward.

If referees are frustrated with having to deal with two captains on one team and Leinster continue to be frustrated with seeing one of their captains overlooked, then nobody wins.

Post-game, Cullen said he would have to review the exchange again, adding that referees have not been flagging any issues with regards the co-captains approach before games.

“No, not at all,” Cullen said. “It looks like the referee is talking to Garry (in that incident) so we will have a look at it again.” 

The Leinster head coach also stressed that he is perfectly happy with how the two players have been leading the team.

They’re a good combo, aren’t they? If James has been naughty then at least Garry is there.

“But the two of them, in terms of how they are leading the group during the week, that’s the thing we have been focusing on and they have been excellent so far. It’s working well for us.”

The incident with Ryan wasn’t the only point of frustration across a mixed Leinster display. While the province scored four second-half tries to notch a bonus-point win, they struggled for cohesion at times, particular in a disjointed first half where Ciarán Frawley struggled to settle into the contest on the occasion of his first start at 10 in the Champions Cup.

“You could see he is nervous,” Cullen said. “We looked nervy as a team before the game. That’s the thing about Sale, they are going to test you with their kicking and their physicality. If you’re not accurate, really accurate, then suddenly life becomes a bit difficult.

He showed some good composure I thought at times during the game and he is a constant threat. The forwards were probably better for him in the second-half because we were starting to win some of those contact battles, particularly when we had the ball.

“Again, it’s just that relationship between himself and Jamison (Gibson-Park) as well and making sure that the forwards are winning contact for us. It was pleasing because it was a great experience for him to lead the team.

“The challenge was that it was a short week and a slight tweak of the plan from last week but overall we were pleased and it was great to see Sam (Prendergast) come on at the end and make his Champions Cup debut as well. Ben Murphy as well.

ciaran-frawley-and-telusa-veainu Leo Cullen felt Ciarán Frawley looked 'nervous' against Sale. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s great experience for these guys. Sam has graduated quickly through the Academy and Ben is still there. It’s a positive step for those guys and for Tom Clarkson as well, making his first start in the Champions Cup. That’s just adding layers to all the lads.”

Some of those may get another run out when Leinster take on Munster on St Stephen’s Day, but Cullen added that he’ll be in a position to field a strong team for the visit to Thomond Park, a fixture which has often seen both sides keep some of their frontliners in reserve over the years.

“It’s different this year, definitely, guys have come back in the past after a break week, but this was a longer break, sometimes three to four weeks off.

“We’ve guys coming back in round five, round six and didn’t play Connacht. Guys have been well-managed, to be fair. That’ll be the same, we’ll have a six-day turnaround between Munster and Ulster, then there’s no game after that again the following weekend.

“We’ll pick a strong group. The main thing is there’s a lot of guys coming into the office trying to get picked, that’s with a good few guys unavailable.

“It’s a proper test of squads, this time of year, we’ve worked hard for seven, eight years to build depth. This is what you need it for, it’s bloody competitive and you can see how physical the games are.” 

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