NOW THAT OUT-HALF Jimmy Gopperth has played his way into the heart of most Leinster fans by guiding them through a tough trip to Wales, Leinster have an interesting quandary on their hands.
For his three years in charge, Joe Schmidt (though he would publicly deny it) continually picked one scrum-half for the RDS, and one for the road.
Eoin Reddan’s zippy service and nous for when an injection of pace was used to twist the knife when the partisan support urged the pack onward. Isaac Boss’ extra bulk and calm was utilised for when the shoe was on the other foot.
The number 10 shirt is not usually one to be rotated, rather it is one of the few which coaches build the rest of their team around. The latter may well prove to be case for Leinster in time, but for now Gopperth and Ian Madigan are having to make do with sharing the responsibility.
There’s no doubt the RDS Grandstand would rather pin their hopes on the precocious talent from Blackrock College. However, in Gopperth Leinster have a cool head, a well-rounded player and a man who has been around the block enough to know instinctively how to plot a safe course for his team.
“He was really impressive,” said Rob Kearney of the man who has had the unenviable task of replacing both Jonny Wilkinson and Jonny Sexton in his career.
“He steered the ship really well for us. There were times in the game he made some big plays and big decisions.”
In Matt O’Connor’s short time in charge of Leinster, game management has become a common issue for him to raise. While Madigan is an excellent weapon on the front foot and he has proved to be a near-flawless goal-kicker, it’s this area which Gopperth can still claim as his unique selling point to his coach. These are skills which are invaluable at home as well as on the road.
As Kearney points out, the hope for Leinster is that both men can take the odd inevitable demotion on the chin ‘for the greater good’.
“It’s not ideal for one man, everyone wants to play week in, week out and start the big ones, but the chances of one guy starting the whole campaign is probably pretty slim.
“It’s just important that the two of them remain as positive as possible and that their attitude, even when they’re not being picked, can be for the greater good of the team – I think if we get that between the two of them we’ll be in a really strong place.”
The opposite scenario doesn’t bear thinking about.