Brian O’Driscoll claims Leinster are ‘not quite as sharp’ under Jacques Nienaber

Colin Newboult
Leinster taking on Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup round-of-16 in 2024.

Leinster taking on Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup round-of-16 in 2024.

Leinster legend Brian O’Driscoll feels that the province are missing the influence of Stuart Lancaster after a comparatively stuttering season by their exceedingly high standards.

The Irishmen are in an incredibly strong position in both the United Rugby Championship and Investec Champions Cup, but their performances have been mixed.

They have not been at their free-flowing best and that was demonstrated by their 36-22 victory over Leicester Tigers in the Champions Cup at the weekend.

Leinster thrashed the same side 55-24 at the quarter-final stage last season, with the Tigers arguably naming a stronger squad for that clash in 2023.

Attacking issues

“I don’t think their attack looks fluid without Stuart Lancaster there,” O’Driscoll said on Off The Ball ahead of Saturday’s encounter.

“This is hard because I’m not privy to those sessions but, looking from the quality that has been delivered on matchday versus some of the free-flowing rugby we saw under Stuart Lancaster, particularly last year and the year before, I don’t think the attack looks quite as sharp.”

Lancaster was a senior coach at the province between 2016 and 2023 and had a say in both attack and defence, but his imprint was particularly obvious with the ball.

He left to take up a role as Racing 92’s head coach ahead of the 2023/24 campaign with Leinster replacing him with South Africa’s double Rugby World Cup winner Jacques Nienaber.

It was an eyebrow-raising appointment given Nienaber’s incredible success at the Springboks, but the 51-year-old is very much renowned for his defensive work.

The former Munster and Stormers coach has implemented a different system this season and it is an area the players are still getting used to.

Ireland star scores hat-trick as Leinster dispose of Leicester to set up La Rochelle clash

“Defensively, you will give a little more leeway because of this new system and of course it’s going to take time,” O’Driscoll said.

“It looks as though everyone’s getting a clear understanding, I saw James Lowe saying that you are going to concede some, but you’re going to win more than you lose.

“I think a smart defensive team like Leinster will eventually come together and it will be a very, very effective system, but it’s going to take time.

“Whether they’re going to come unstuck in big games – semi-finals and finals in Europe – we will have to wait and see, if they get there.

“For me, the attack hasn’t been quite as good and it is probably a combination of Jacques Nienaber primarily focusing on defence and so you lose the attacking mindset of Stuart Lancaster.”

Nienaber’s system put to the test

Many felt that the steel Nienaber would bring to the side would benefit Leinster as they attempted to end their barren trophy streak.

The Irish province have only won the Champions Cup once since 2012 – in 2018 – while they haven’t claimed the United Rugby Championship title since the competition’s inception.

Their last domestic success came prior to the South African sides joining as they emerged triumphant in the PRO14 in 2021.

Whether Nienaber can help turn that around will be put to the test over the next couple of months, especially when they face La Rochelle this weekend.

In a repeat of the last two Champions Cup finals, the duo will go head-to-head in Dublin as the Leinstermen look to finally get one over the Frenchmen in a knockout game.

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