Stuart Barnes: Leinster’s ‘focus’ on Jacques Nienaber’s defence could cost them against ‘brilliant’ Toulouse

Colin Newboult
Leinster head coach Jacques Nienaber and former England player Stuart Barnes.

Leinster head coach Jacques Nienaber and former England player Stuart Barnes.

Pundit and former England fly-half Stuart Barnes has expressed his concerns over Leinster’s style of play ahead of the Champions Cup final.

Once a swashbuckling attacking side, the ex-playmaker believes that they risk going too far the other way following the arrival of Jacques Nienaber.

The Rugby World Cup winner replaced Stuart Lancaster following the recent global tournament and has set about turning them into a team that wins silverware on a consistent basis.

Despite often dominating during the regular season, they have generally faltered at the crucial moments and, as a result, have only won one Champions Cup title since 2012.

In fact, Leinster’s last trophy came three years ago when they emerged triumphant in the old PRO14.

Nienaber’s influence

There was a thought that the arrival of Nienaber would reverse their fortunes in the big matches, and that will be put to the test when they face French giants Toulouse this weekend.

Barnes is unconvinced, however, and believes that, irrespective of how strong the Irish province is defensively, their opponents will be able to score plenty of points.

“I look at Leinster and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t think the Leinster defence is going to win them a European Cup final’,” he told Off The Ball.

“In England, I got quite a lot of stick because I thought Leicester (Tigers) have been wholly focused on defence and find themselves in eighth place (in the Premiership) because their attacking game has gone. They don’t have an attack coach but they’re not working at it at all.

“I look at Leinster versus Toulouse and I’m thinking, ‘alright Leinster are working really hard on defence, but tell me Toulouse are not going to score 20-plus points against anyone the way they’re playing at the moment.’

“Then what happens is Leinster, who had this brilliant attacking game that came out of the blocks at 100 miles an hour in last year’s final, are struggling. That’s where they ended up a little bit in the Northampton game.”

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Lucky escape

Barnes feels that Leinster are perhaps fortunate to even be in the final considering the scare they were given by Northampton Saints in the last-four.

Leo Cullen’s men escaped with a 20-17 triumph but the former England fly-half believes that, had it not been for the Saints’ early game nerves, it could have been a different story.

“Let’s not kid ourselves, Northampton were a little bit overwhelmed in the first 10 minutes, they haven’t been to a semi-final for a while. It’s quite possible had they not been caught out like that, they could have won that game,” he said.

The 61-year-old stopped short of firmly predicting a Leinster loss on Saturday but stated that Toulouse’s style is more suited to the way rugby is going at the moment.

“Toulouse are a better team than Northampton. I would say if Leinster lose the final, it will be defence losing to attack,” he added.

“Toulouse have got a good defence but they’ve got a brilliant attack and I do believe that is the way the game is shifting right now.”

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