THE IDEA THAT rugby is on the pathway to something approaching the transfer goings-on in football is a worrying one.
However, with the wealth of clubs in France continuing to grow rapidly, so too are the amount of rumours relating to players switching sides. Whether many of them have any basis in reality beyond agents working to secure higher wages for their clients is arguable, but the growing culture of transfer gossip in rugby in undeniable.
For many coaches, dealing with ongoing speculation while also training and preparing their sides for affairs on the pitch is an increasingly accepted part of the job. Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor says that while the current examples of Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip have been intensified cases, he has not been overly distracted.
It is part of the professional game. It is probably not as high profile mostly [as O'Brien and Heaslip], and it probably doesn’t drag on for so long. But those distractions are there all the time in the professional environment. It is something that everyone cracks on with and they don’t really distract anybody from the task at hand.
“The last two or three years it has probably become a bigger issue because that is where the marquee signings and the big money is, but if you go back five or six years, it wasn’t uncommon. The teams in the Southern Hemisphere had to deal with it, the teams in England had to deal with it.
“It is not particularly isolated to Ireland. It is just the way the global market has gone.”
Rumours or not, Jamie Heaslip is still performing well for Leinster. ©INPHO/James Crombie
And so, O’Connor has gone about preparing his players for tomorrow’s visit to Castres by putting those concerns to the back of his mind. O’Brien may have been in Toulon this weekend to hear what the Top 14 club have to offer him, but Leinster’s real interests are focused on beating the reigning champions of the same league.
The 19-7 win over Serge Milhas and David Darricarrère’s side in round two of the pool stages may not have been perfect, but O’Connor says Leinster have provided themselves with a template for beating Castres.
“We’ve got to make sure we are accurate. We weren’t particularly disappointed with how we played against them at the RDS. We were pretty happy with that performance and result and we will be looking to replicate that.
They are a good side, they have a great record, they are Top 14 Champions and they’ve got a fantastic squad. We have got to make sure we bring a top shelf performance.”
Having reviewed Castres’ league performances, which see the Tarn-based side sitting third, as well as calling on Leinster’s “various French links”, O’Connor feels he has enough information to go about beating a team that so rarely loses at the Stade Pierre Antoine.
As is becoming his way, the Australian coach warns that we might not be seeing the best of Leinster’s attacking talent tomorrow, pointing out that any away win will be about the intricate details.
“It’s about making sure we execute and put them under pressure. If we can do that there are opportunities to score tries. It’s probably going to be more about grinding out a result rather than a three- or four-try victory.
“It is going to be about making sure all our tiny little bits, all the basics – set piece, kick chase, all those things – are going to have to be spot on.”
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