Feek tips the scales up front

IT was nearly two hours after the final whistle before Jonathan Sexton emerged from the Leinster dressing-room one last time and into an impatient mixed zone desperate for the lowdown from the man of the hour.

As he spoke, few reporters deigned to glance sideways at the bald Kiwi with a goatee whose input at half-time was, in practical terms, far more critical to the reversal in Leinster’s fortunes.

For 40 minutes, Greg Feek had looked on horrified as the scrum he had done so much to improve this season cracked as it had in last year’s semi-final at Toulouse.

This wasn’t meant to happen.

Joe Schmidt had recruited Feek as a specialist scrum consultant to ensure days like that were a thing of the past and yet, here they were again, face to face with their biggest nightmare.

“I was on suicide watch at half-time but after having a look at it I realised ‘hang on, we are actually causing problem ourselves’,” said Feek.

“We just had to say to the boys, ‘look let’s just get our s**t right and try not to do too much’. It was just a few technical things that I gave them to do but the technical stuff only works if you get the other stuff right too. These guys have got some massive heart as well. It was probably the biggest 10 minutes of my rugby career at half-time.

“Belief played a big part in it as well. We were all very down after that first 40 minutes.

“We backed ourselves and that has been the key with us and our systems all year. It was a matter of getting back to that. I actually think we were trying too much.”

Feek’s instructions were clear and simple, his methods equally so. There was no outpouring of emotion like Sexton’s, just a laptop with set-piece replays and a forensic deconstruction of what they were doing wrong.

“What was happening was we were winning the hit and then easing off. Northampton were waiting and waiting and as soon as they sense a weakness they’ve very good timing,” said tight-head Mike Ross. “They drop it but come back. It can be incredibly difficult to deal with.

“In the second-half we just started doing to them what they were doing to us and it worked. It was just a little tweak. It wasn’t much. There’s obviously a difference between going forwards and going backwards and thankfully it turned around for us.”

Though they had been written off in most quarters last week, there had been a general consensus that Northampton’s scrum was their most potent weapon. But Saturday should not have been so traumatic for so long.

“We knew Northampton were a very strong outfit and, to be fair, looking back at it now we were guilty of maybe trying that little bit too hard,” said Leo Cullen. “We were kind of scrummaging a little bit on our own and doing our own thing.

“I had that feeling that their loose head starts to stand up and as we came forward they get a bit of a surge on. We were a bit guilty of going round on our loose head side and Mujati just stayed really tight on Hartley and they pincer round and come through the middle of us.”

The scrum’s importance isn’t limited to its practical applications. Nothing lifts a side and its supporters more than an opposing eight crumpling like cardboard.

When Leinster popped the Saints in that first scrum after the restart the concertina effect propelled them towards a second Heineken Cup title.

Northampton forwards coach Dorian West, a veteran of many a physical battle from playing with Leicester, conceded the importance of the setpiece swing.

“There was one scrum down in their 22 when I thought we could have been a bit more patient. We played away from that a bit quick and they got a bit of momentum from that and it changed the game.”

Well, that and Jonny Sexton.


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