Stuart Lancaster backing Leinster to 'adapt' to whatever comes

'Nothing prepares you really until you walk out in front of 60,000 people in 28 degrees heat and suddenly you have massive bodies whacking into you'
Stuart Lancaster backing Leinster to 'adapt' to whatever comes

Leinster Coach Stuart Lancaster arrives for training. ©INPHO/Ben Brady

Sunday was a day off for Leinster and it’s not hard to imagine more than a few of the players and coaches spending some of it watching Mito Perreira struggle in the US PGA or the unexpected travails of Liverpool and Manchester City before the two clubs rallied to claim their three points.

Leo Cullen’s group hardly needed a reminder as to how hard it is to make it first over that finishing line. Johnny Sexton and others have been vocal about their Heineken Champions Cup disappointments the last three seasons but here were fresh examples of the fortitude needed just as they face into another critical week.

“It’s pressure, isn’t it?” said Stuart Lancaster.

The province’s senior coach has been part of a brains trust that has helped deliver one European Cup and four league titles to Dublin but he can reel off the lows just as well: defeats in a Champions Cup quarter-final, semi-final and decider since last going all the way in 2018.

Cullen described last year’s loss to La Rochelle in the last four as “haunting” over the weekend. Lancaster doesn’t rank his disappointments. Each one sticks in his mind and, while he sees a more experienced Leinster side travelling to Marseille for this latest final, he knows that this brings no guarantees with it.

“We’ve won in France and lost in France so my experience counts for a lot as well in preparation but nothing prepares you really until you walk out in front of 60,000 people in 28 degrees heat and suddenly you have massive bodies whacking into you.

“So it’s rolling with the punches again, making sure you adapt within the game. You stay calm and keep in control of your emotions. That's key to success in winning finals, but it's easier said than done.” 

It was an inability to adapt that, he believes, cost Leinster the chance to succeed away to Ronan O’Gara’s side last season but they have already demonstrated a penchant for reacting to the unexpected on and off the field this term.

The loss of five match points after their trip to Montpellier was cancelled pointed them towards Dublin Airport for their quarter-final against Leicester. They navigated that and then hardly blinked when Antoine Dupont scored an early breakaway try last time out.

The loss of Tadhg Furlong to injury after 17 minutes in that game against the French aristocrats was another potentially crippling blow that failed to hobble them but we will have to wait and see if the tighthead is fit again for the Stade Velodrome.

Same for James Lowe who suffered a shin injury against Toulouse.

“It’s taken a while for them to get back moving again but they are moving in the right direction,” said Lancaster. 

“Not fully confirmed yet … but tomorrow will be a big training day for us and Wednesday is off, so tomorrow is more of a decision-making day really.” 

Not exactly gung-ho, was it?

Furlong, he added, will have to be fully ready to feature. There is no place for a tighthead operating at less than 100% on one leg, not in a European Cup final against a scrummaging unit like La Rochelle, even if his name is Tadhg Furlong.

The word “hopeful” was used in relation to both players in different media interviews but with the rider that nothing is done and dusted yet when it comes to their chances of facing a side that is looking to take a step further than last year’s final loss to Toulouse.

Jono Gibbes has moved on since then, the reins having been handed over to O’Gara who, Lancaster believes, has brought much of the defensive IP he utilised as an assistant with the Crusaders to the Top 14 side now under his care.

There was also mention made of their attention to detail in the back field and the kicking game, praise for their breakdown work, and a nod towards his forwards coach Donnacha Ryan. If you could kill an opponent with kindness… 

“Collectively their coaching team do a very good job. You can't fight on two fronts like they do and be successful without good coaching. Obviously they've got great players as well. They're tough and they're hard to beat.”

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