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'It's not just white noise with Isa': Leinster adjusting to quietly effective new leaders

With a rookie head and backs coach, Leinster need every last leader to get off to a good start in the Pool of Death.

READY OR NOT the newly installed core leaders in Leinster’s playing and coaching staff will really get going this weekend.

Girvan Dempsey Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For a rookie head coach, the two defeats and the handful or stuttering performances are acceptable in a Pro12 competition overshadowed by the biggest competition the sport has to offer, but only as long as they are the stepping stone to something better.

That ‘something’ comes to the RDS on Sunday as Wasps aim to sting Leinster early on and put them on the back foot in the Pool of Death.

“We looked at the performance against Scarlets on Friday,” said first-year backs coach Girvan Dempsey today, “and we created a lot, but we didn’t capitalise on some of our play.

“That’s an area we’ll highlight and work on this week, because we know we’ve got to be better in order to get the scores and capitalise on the possession.”

Leinster have showed flashes of that kind of excellence during the opening seven games of the season, most notably at home to Dragons and for periods away to Treviso. This weekend it will have to come together, and the on and off-field leaders will be key to forging a success.


However, it’s not so long since Cullen was one of the playing staff, trying to force his will on rucks and set-pieces physically rather than the mental challenge that he undertakes weekly now.

Fergus McFadden admits it’s a little odd having his former captain being the big boss. McFadden’s humour, as those of you who follow him on Twitter will know, is so sharp his quips must draw the odd drop of blood. But the new office has managed to protect Cullen from McFadden’s own brand of wit.

“The dynamic and relationship changes the moment you come in this building, I wouldn’t (slag him) because you don’t want to cross that line, disrespect him in any way in the setup.

“If I met them for a coffee outside, maybe the slagging would start then, but in here it’s all business.

“I played with Girvan and obviously Leo. It’s strange sometimes, all of a sudden they become this authoritative figure as a coach and the relationship changes.”

“It’s been great so far and they really complement each other with the different strengths they have as coaches. I’m enjoying it under them, I’m just looking forward to the relationship building and things going on from here.”

Coaches end up in charge of former team-mates all the time, but there is little certainty in how the relationships will play out. There is the theory that players can struggle to cope with the new authority of a man who was once their peer, but also a creditable idea that, unknown to themselves, they will dig a little deeper for an old friend because they want them to succeed. Not for McFadden.

“If you’ve played some tough games and put your body on the line with guys then it obviously does build a bond there. But from player to coach, the relationship changes.

“You remember playing with them, but if I hadn’t I’d be trying just as hard. Every time I put on a blue jersey I’m trying as hard every week no matter who is coaching me.”

One man who has had a taste of post-career coaching, but decided to breeze back in to one of the highest levels of the sport after two years out, is Isa Nacewa.

Isa Nacewa Source: James Crombie/INPHO

At 33, the Aucklander has settled back in to the Leinster back-line as if he never went away. And whether through his every assuring touch or just by being there, he has been a calming presence on a young side.

“He just brings a calmness on the pitch,” McFadden says of his new captain.

“When you’re around Isa he just seems to make the right decision every time, instinctively.

“He’s such a talented guy. He maybe doesn’t talk as much some other captains, but when he does there’s real meaning behind it. It’s not white noise with Isa, there’s always meaning in what he says.

“I think it’s great he’s been appointed captain, I really look up to him as a player and a guy. Hopefully it’ll be a good stint for him.”

Jonathan Sexton Sexton, the on-field backs coach. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Together with the natural quiet leaders like Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Eoin Reddan, men like Nacewa and his vice captains, Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton, can ensure that the transition into coaching for Cullen and Dempsey continues to be smooth.

“For me, it’s really exciting,” says Dempsey, a month on from taking over the backs full-time.

“Players of that quality, they’re an easy group to coach because they’re so in tune with it all. All I’m trying to do is refine things and challenge them and see what they see on the field so we can actually be better.”

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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