“IT’S EARLY DAYS to be worrying about Matt O’Connor.”
So Matt O’Connor says anyway.
Third person reference aside, the new Leinster coach’s point is that, at this stage of the season, he is not looking for any marked changes in the province’s tactical approach.
The Australian takes charge of his first game for his new province against Ulster tonight at a venue which has already proved an unhappy hunting ground in his time with Leicester Tigers.
However, with youthful line-ups and extensive benches picked by both sides, O’Connor and his opposite number Mark Anscombe are using this Pro12 final repeat merely as a test of application and fitness.
“The guys have worked pretty hard in pre-season and they are desperate to play rugby,” O’Connor said at yesterday’s open session in Dundalk.
“The group have spoken over the past couple of days about this being an opportunity, and how important it is to take that opportunity. Because there is a certain amount of responsibility that goes with wearing a shirt and I’m sure those blokes will do us proud.”
He added: “Tomorrow’s all about attitude. it’s about making sure the guys know the system with and without the ball and they bring the attitude.”
One man who will have more than just attitude to show off will be debutant Jimmy Gopperth. The number 10 will take over the reins with Ian Madigan still some weeks from a competitive return.
Although O’Connor declined to engage further in how he’d juggle the skill-sets of Gopperth and Madigan, the Australian has previously suggested he will approach the conundrum with a horses for courses mentality and yesterday added:
“I’ve watched Jimmy closely over the past couple of years in the Premiership so I know a bit about him, I’ve coached against him in Super Rugby, he’s a very talented bloke – he manages the game quite well.
“He’s a very good professional he’s been in some good environments and played a lot of rugby. He had a massive responsibility at Newcastle and there’s a genuine excitement for him in coming here and playing with a better tier of players.
“I think his skill-set will flourish in that environment.”
- Interview by Pat McCarry.