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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 8°C
Laszlo Geczo/INPHO The Leinster scrum had some tough moments against La Rochelle.
# Under Pressure
Leinster search for answers after another tough day at the scrum
Robin McBryde says the province ‘weren’t good enough’ in Saturday’s Champions Cup final.

STILL HURTING FROM Leinster’s Champions Cup final defeat to La Rochelle, the province’s scrum coach Robin McBryde sat down earlier this week to field what must have felt like a familiar line of questioning. 

At Marseille’s stunning Stade Vélodrome, it proved to be another tough outing for the Leinster scrum. Having conceded a penalty at the first scrum of the day, the Leinster pack recovered and had some good moments against the head, but found themselves increasingly under pressure as the game wore on, La Rochelle clearly sensing opportunity around the setpiece.

“We weren’t good enough,” says McBryde of the Leinster scrum.

“We can argue the case that we should have had this or that, but at the end of the day, we weren’t quite (good) enough and that’s why we lost the game.

“We put ourselves in situations that we should never have been in. We gave it a good crack, but we weren’t at our best really.

“Listen, you just have to give La Rochelle the plaudits. They came with a game-plan, they executed it and they snuck it at the end. We went through a painful process (on Monday) in the meetings about some of the lessons, some of the learnings we can take from the game.

“At the end of day, it doesn’t matter how you win a final, as long as you win. If it’s seven penalties, then it’s seven penalties.

“The nature of it, with regards to, should we have gone for the corner? Should we have done this that and the other, it’s easy to say in hindsight, isn’t it?

tadhg-furlong-with-robin-mcbryde Ben Brady / INPHO Robin McBryde and Tadhg Furlong. Ben Brady / INPHO / INPHO

“But you’ve just got to back the decisions that the players are making. You keep the scoreboard ticking over, you build pressure on the scoreboard. If your kicks are relatively central in front of the sticks, that pretty much just lends itself to you taking the points as opposed to a kick that’s further out on the angle, you may go to touch.

“We took a quick-tap before half-time for a free-kick, it didn’t quite come off, but again our execution let us down on that occasion.

“There’s a lot of things in that, I know your initial question was on the scrum, but at the end of the day, there were a lot of things that we could have been better at.”

While McBryde is right in pointing to other areas that let Leinster down, the scrum issues will be a concern for the former Wales front-rower, Leinster struggling in the same department against both Leicester Tigers and Toulouse en route to the final, an pattern tracing back across previous Champions Cup defeats to La Rochelle (2021) and Saracens (2019, 2020).

McBryde was asked if the players are finding it difficult to problem-solve on the pitch when the scrum battle isn’t going their way.

“It’s not the players, it’s my issue,” he replied.

I have to make sure that I do my work a bit better. So, listen, we are pursuing the channels with regard to getting feedback from the pictures that the referees see on the day. It’s an ongoing process really, but ultimately, we know that teams are going to attack us in a certain way and we’ve got to be prepared for it.

“We can’t rely on the referee to give us the call on every single occasion, irrespective if you agree or disagree with him. I need to do my work a bit better there.

“In fairness to the guys with regard to the energy they bring to all facets of the game, it’s a case of learning and moving on really.”

Leinster will also be particularly disappointed with the fact that they were fully aware of how La Rochelle would approach the game, the French side coming out on top by leaning on the strengths that saw them knock the province out in the semi-final stages last season.

“They executed their gameplan,” McBryde continues.

There wasn’t that many surprises really. We knew that they were always going to be a tough team on setpiece, obviously go hard at the contact area and they provided a challenge, really. We know they’re a dangerous attacking team as well, were quite willing to take the quick-taps, take the opportunites when they were there for them. I thought maybe they would have driven a little bit more against us, but they didn’t. 

“But yeah, there was no surprises really. We failed to impose our own game on them. You know, 15 minutes ball in play in the first half, where really we couldn’t get going, we couldn’t get into the flow, that rhythm of the game etc, so we were unable to ask the questions that we wanted to of their fitness and their ability to get set early, so fair dues to them. 

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“I think the most disappointing thing for everybody really is that we weren’t quite at our best, for whatever the reason. We just didn’t get into the rhythm or the flow that people would have seen in the previous matches against Toulouse, Leicester as well, a different challenge there, but we’ve been able to sort of adjust our sails accordingly with regards to what challenges have been posed.

will-skelton-and-uini-atonio-with-james-ryan-and-andrew-porter James Crombie / INPHO La Rochelle leaned heavily on their power game in Marseille. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s just unfortunate that on the last hurdle in the final, we weren’t able to get into the swing of things. And you’ve got to give La Rochelle credit for that. They stopped us playing, so fair play to them.”

Now it’s on to a United Rugby Championship quarter-final meeting with Glasgow Warriors at the RDS this Saturday, a fixture which all of a sudden has taken on a heightened importance for the province, who are looking to win a fifth straight league title.

“It’s (the Champions Cup) a goal that we had, and it’s no longer there, so we failed at that. We failed at that challenge, so we’ve got to make the most of this one. So that’s what’s driving everybody, the fact that if we lose on Saturday, things are going to be twice as bad.

“Listen, it’s a professional outfit, we’ve got to be able to deal with a loss, take it on the chin, take the learnings and move on to the game, and that’s what we’ll do.

“And it is vitally important now, the importance of the game now is much more than what it was two weeks ago, because it’s a case of not having anything to show for everybody’s hard work during the year, and I’m sure Glasgow will be saying the same thing as well. 

“So no guarantees, but we’ve just got to put ourselves in the right frame of mind and in the best possible position to turn up on Saturday and turn up with a performance.” 

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