Jack McGrath believes the blame for Leinster’s heavy defeat to Ulster last week should rest with the players and not the coaching ticket, as the province seeks to repair the damage done in Belfast by seeing off Treviso at the RDS this Saturday.
Leo Cullen’s side fell to a 24-point defeat at the Kingspan Stadium, but it was the performance as well as the result which attracted stinging criticism, as questions raised by a terrible Champions Cup campaign earlier this season were resurrected by their worst 80 minutes since.
Jonathan Sexton spoke before and after the defeat about the fact that Leinster still have a considerable way to go before they can spy the heights they once inhabited and they are making the journey with a rookie management crew.
Cullen is in his first season as head coach and forwards coach John Fogarty and backs coach Girvan Dempsey have also come under the microscope at different stages.
Only defence coach Kurt McQuilkin seems to have impressed the majority of onlookers this term.
Only the most unlikely of defeats for Connacht at the hands of Treviso the night before has allowed Leinster to enter this last round of regular season fixtures with a top-two place – and a Guinness PRO12 home semi-final berth – in their own hands.
It was the luckiest of breaks for Cullen & Co.
“He knows the quality is there,” said McGrath of the coach.
“He knows the guys know what they’ve done wrong. Like, there’s a pack of internationals there and a team of internationals there and it’s just ... you can’t put blame on him. It’s just us as players who haven’t performed.”
The video review was digested on Monday afternoon in a quiet and sombre UCD HQ as the rest of the province’s employees enjoyed the last dregs of the Bank Holiday weekend.
The mood usually picks up after that as the focus turns to the next task to come.
But there was much to discuss this week.
McGrath picked out their performance at the breakdown, poor handling and indiscipline as three of the crucial planks which splintered hopes four days ago, but he disputed the theory that maybe an Ulster side chasing the top four places just wanted and needed the win more.
“Going to play a team like Ulster, no one should need it more than the other team. We always go out to win, we don’t go out to underperform and on the day sometimes things go against you and you make mistakes.
“When they’re those type of close games they can be pretty gaping mistakes.
“It’s just kind of frustrating from all aspects.” Treviso arrive in Dublin one point ahead of Zebre in the ladder and in the chase for the one Italian Champions Cup spot, but the destination of that berth will be decided not in the RDS but back home where their countrymen meet the pitiful Dragons at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.
McGrath, of course, is talking the opposition up.
“We were pretty happy with our own scrum on Saturday but, as we know, Italians pride themselves on the scrum so it’s somewhere we’ll have to be really screwed on because that’s where a real strength of theirs lies.”
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