On Friday night one hour before kick-off in the Pool 2 match away to Castres I went into the kitchen to get myself a cup of tea. That's right, I watched the match from home unlike the 1,000 or so disillusioned souls who had ventured into the people's republic of Castres – it ain't a fun place. In my kitchen on the wall there is a lovely schilling circular clock that said 7 o'clock. Up at the wall above the door there is a wooden cuckoo clock without a cuckoo in it that said 6.55. The microwave oven told me that it was 7.03 and the CD player told me it was 7.06 – you wouldn't want to have obsessive compulsive disorder in my house. A simple thing to fix though – two minutes and all the clocks would be synchronised and ticking in harmony.
During the week Alan Gaffney went before the media and gave an assurance that Leinster's poor performance last Saturday at the Royal Dublin Society was really only down to improper depth and alignment. The Leinster backs do run flat lines but before the ball reaches them they showed an awful lot more depth, it's why so many passes went forward or to ground. Some simple adjustments during training would sort the problem out and with 75 per cent possession from almost all phases, all Leinster had to do was concentrate and focus on playing their natural game and hey presto.
They are now out of the Heineken Cup. As of 1 o'clock or maybe 1.05 or possibly 12.55 today the current state of affairs in Pool 2 is that Leinster have 15 points and Wasps have eight. The only thing at issue today is whether Wasps will garner a bonus point against Edinburgh. It's the second half of the year when Wasps decide to wake up and play rugby and I am certain that whatever was inflicted upon them in the RDS in October will be returned in spades to the ladyboys. Simple mathematics tells you then that Leinster will not have enough points and Wasps will win the group, a scandalous predicament.
Denial is a river in Egypt. It is also the state that Leinster are in. Problem recognition is the key. Leinster's two big wins from the first two matches are easily explained. Edinburgh are simply bad beyond belief and Wasps, well, typical of the mindset of most of these Leinster players, they produce a good performance in front of the entire Lions coaching staff. I'll lay a bet with you that none of this Leinster side will travel to South Africa in the summer. The only chance Leinster have is that the Galacticos still think they have a chance of going. It will have nothing to do with their collective want to win the Heineken Cup for their province.
So let's just see where they went wrong last Friday night against a side that was so dysfunctionally one-dimensional. How could a team like Leinster lose to a second-rate side of kick and chasers? I met Jeremy Davidson in the Burlington on the Friday night before the RDS game. The limit of their ambition for the following day was to tackle and keep the score down. He was fairly confident, despite all the difficulties, that they would win the return leg. Seventy-five per cent of the cause of the loss can be attributed to Leinster's inadequacies but Castres knew how to play them and though it was a desperately limited form of expression they knew how to beat them.
The most glaring deficiency was at the breakdown. Chris Masoe was masterful in the contact zone and to my count picked off eight balls which a Leinster ball carrier had taken into contact. The New Zealander played everything within the law and was just too determined and too clever for Leinster's back row.
Shane Jennings had the worst game I have ever seen him play. Maybe he is just coming back from injury but his current form and his form all season suggests that not only is he not up to the standard at international level but he is currently not good enough to play Heineken. He really does have to get his mind together. Elsom, too, for such a powerful runner and a prime athlete straight out of SANZA, lost the ball in contact more than I have ever seen him do so before. He was lazy in midfield and just didn't bother his arse at ruck time. Heaslip was too loose and too casual with or without the ball and his graph is shadowing that of the ISEQ index.
Consequently Leinster were bashing flat runners off slow ball and barely able to retain it due to lack of numbers getting into the ruck. Lionel Nallet and Joe Takori had a field day muscling Leinster players out of the ruck and it went from there. Was it lack of guile or lack of guts that led Leinster into that downward spiral? Leadership or even something resembling it was conspicuous by its absence.
Chris Whittaker who was close to being the worst player on the pitch in the RDS gave another shocking performance. He took less out of the ball but surely there must be some 22-year-old out there who can link and pass to a better standard than the Australian. Sexton's performance was an improvement on last week but two easy penalty misses and an unbelievable miss from his own try just killed Leinster.
It doesn't matter who you are playing against in France, every kickable kick has to be kicked. Sexton was binned at half-time. I'm not sure if I would agree with that but the thought was probably given to the fact that Leinster were listless and directionless and Contepomi, who so often has been the catalyst for change and impetus despite being ill for a month, would inject enthusiasm and confidence. He had the worst game I've ever seen him play and I would have thought that if Leinster were going to bring on Nacewa with 10 or 15 to go, out-half would have been where they should have put him.
O'Driscoll is clearly unfit and is only doing himself damage, even he could not reverse the psychological spin that Leinster had gotten themselves into. Leo Cullen is a big loss but the guy they really miss is Keith Gleeson. It's only when they are missing that you realise how good they were in the first place.
All the usual failings came back to haunt them. Crucial overthrows to the back of the line, concession of field position for crooked 10-year-old concessions at the breakdown, particularly Jennings in the 42nd and 56th minutes, going off their feet from nearly every last single forward when it was obvious that it was referee David Pearson's favourite offence. When Leinster were trying to get back in the game in the 60th minute Contepomi's kick-off was hooked so badly it nearly defied description. Leinster's kicking became worse as the match wore on, nobody chased, nobody gave any direction as to what was required, where and how to kick the ball – this only gave encouragement to Castres with every simple concession of the ball.
Toner, after supporting Contepomi, got tackled and turned the ball over almost as if he was giving the ball away – it just got worse and worse. With a few minutes left Jackman again overthrew a long ball to the back with a gargantuan Toner sitting redundant in the middle of the lineout. Leinster managed to bail themselves out of trouble with two minutes to go with a free-kick on their 22. All they needed was field position and composure. O'Driscoll kicked the ball but missed touch by at least 8 metres – it was that bad.
Castres kept their nerve, played with tenacity of purpose, kept the ball in the Leinster half and made their tackles. They didn't really have to work that hard. Leinster couldn't even pour piss out of a shoe with the instructions written on the heel.
I just do not want to hear some of the players talking bullshit like 'there is a lot of hurting in that dressing room' or 'we've got to learn from our mistakes'. Last week was the week to learn from their mistakes but they didn't bother to turn up when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity presented itself. It was a disgraceful, gutless, leaderless, spineless performance and one which embellishes the reputation they have all over Europe. Every single player will have to examine his conscience and see is there any way out of the situation they have put themselves in. Management too had better realise that this team cannot perform as badly as it has heretofore, in particular Alan Gaffney and Jono Gibbs had better shape up or ship out. Once again the sniggering from Munster will be just unbearable.