Leinster and Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll has revealed that former Leinster head coach Michael Cheika was the game-changer for the province and made them the team they are today.
Cheika, who arrived from Randwick in 2005, lead the team to their first European Cup in 2009 and changed the team from underachievers to winners.
“We undoubtedly had the talent in the early 2000s and just didn’t understand the work-ethic side of things, the sacrifice part. And then it was the flip of that in 2006. We weren’t as talented, but we worked hard and Michael Cheika was absolutely enormous to the shaping of the province. He was the one who brought in the change in mentality and cut out the cancer,” he said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.
O’Driscoll continued to say that the ‘cancer’ at the club were the players who failed to live up to expectation and were happy to just be at the province.
“There were individuals that just were on easy-street and just happy to be professional rugby players, rather than professional players who wanted to win. The senior players rule the roost and I don’t want to talk negatively about them because there were some great players, but I don’t think we had the mentality of that team that came through from 2006 through to now,” he said.
Earlier in the interview O’Driscoll admitted that Leinster’s 30-6 home Champions Cup semi-final loss to Munster in 2006 pushed them on further.
“The semi-final in 2006 was big for us. We weren’t as nearly as talented a Leinster team as previous years, but yet we managed to get there and it gave us hope,” he said.
Although Cheika was the catalyst for their transformation, Joe Schmidt brought a new philosophy to the club when he arrived that lead to Leinster winning two more Champions Cups. However, O’Driscoll believes that current head coach and former team-mate Leo Cullen has developed the side even further and discussed Cullen’s vision from the start.
“I met Leo before the start of his second year and he had a very clear vision of how he wanted to play and we are seeing that now. I thought to myself, ‘This is a ballsy call’, considering the year he had and because Leinster had gone back a step or two in the two previous years,” he added.
O’Driscoll confirmed that the style of play Cullen wanted to implement was that of the All Blacks, whereby the number on your shirt is irrelevant and that you are willing to do everything for your team.
“It was three years ago and just the start of the ’15-man game’. The All Blacks were playing it, but no one else really was. Leo wanted to do it. It was about everyone being a ball-player and no numbers on backs after first phase. It was about everyone being comfortable in their role and a possession-based game and only kicking on their own terms,” he said.
He finished by looking ahead to this weekend’s clash of the titans between Leinster and Saracens and believes that his old side have no limitations to where the current side can go.
“I hope the final lives up to its potential because they are far and away the two best teams in Europe, consistently for the last five years. Who knows where this group of Leinster players can go? There are no limitations. You feel as though this group will be in the mix for the next couple of years. The same as Saracens,” he finished.
Leinster face Saracens on Saturday and are looking to become the first side to win the tournament five times, a fantasy thought for many when they won their first European Cup 10 years ago, but it is now very close to becoming a reality and it all started with Cheika.
Ulster make changes for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been named for the Second Leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Kingspan Stadium on Saturday evening.
Nick Timoney will make his 100th appearance for the Ulster men, as he is named to start at openside – with Marcus Rea at blindside and Duane Vermeulen at Number Eight. Andrew Warwick comes in to start at loosehead, and will pack down with Rob Herring at hooker and Marty Moore at tighthead. Captain Iain Henderson will partner with Alan O’Connor in the engine room.
Mike Lowry and Rob Baloucoune, who signed new 3-year contract extensions this week, are named at full-back and on the right wing respectively. Ethan McIlroy returns to take the left-wing starting berth. Stuart McCloskey and James Hume will form the midfield partnership, and John Cooney and Billy Burns are retained at scrum-half and out-half.
Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy will provide forward reinforcements, while Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer back line cover.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 Second Leg, Saturday 16 April at Kingspan Stadium, 8pm kick-off, live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, and Sky Italia:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Rob Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ethan McIlroy, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Andrew Warwick, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Eric O’Sullivan, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.
Graham Rowntree Confirmed As Next Munster Head Coach
Munster Rugby and the IRFU are pleased to confirm that Graham Rowntree will be promoted from Forwards Coach to the role of Head Coach from July 1, 2022.
Rowntree will commence the role of Head Coach at the start of the 2022/23 season after signing a two-year deal.
The former England prop made the move to Limerick in October 2019 on completion of his Rugby World Cup coaching duties with Georgia Rugby.
In his third season as Forwards Coach Graham and family have settled well into Limerick life, noting earlier this year, “I have made my thoughts about this club widely known throughout my time so far, and for me and my family it really has been an easy decision, a non-decision if truth be told.
“We’ve put down roots here and have no desire to move anywhere else.”
With an impressive coaching CV and vast experience, Rowntree previously held coaching roles with the British and Irish Lions, England Rugby, Harlequins and Leicester Tigers.
Working closely with the IRFU, the province will advance with next steps in securing the backroom team that will work with Graham from next season as Head Coach Johann van Graan, Senior Coach Stephen Larkham, and Defence Coach JP Ferreira depart the province at the end of June.
IRFU Performance Director, David Nucifora, commented, “I would like to thank the Munster Professional Game Committee for their work and diligence during this process.
“It is important that Munster have someone who understands the unique history and culture of the club and has the experience to maximise the talent in the squad.
“Graham was very impressive throughout this process and demonstrated he has the capabilities to spearhead the next chapter of Munster Rugby.”
On confirmation of the promotion, Graham Rowntree added, “I am hugely honoured to be taking over the role of Head Coach for a club of this calibre, one that means so much to me and my family.
“We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment here and I fortunately get to work with an incredible group of staff and players who share a common goal each day in striving for success for this club.
“I’ve talked about our fantastic supporters before and again at the weekend we stepped off the bus to a huge red welcome in Exeter. Who doesn’t want to be part of that, that’s special!
“I believe we have the established structures in place with the resources and facilities to match and that it will be a smooth transition for the coaching ticket we assemble in ensuring continued development and success for this club.
“Before then I have a role to complete this season and working closely with Johann, Steve, and JP is the immediate focus and priority for now.”
Commenting on the appointment, Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “Graham’s extensive coaching experience and knowledge for the game makes him the perfect candidate to lead this squad forward.
“With Graham stepping up at the start of the new season it will be a seamless and natural progression from the work that has been carried out to-date.
“For now, we will continue our focus on the remainder of this season with Graham supporting Johann and the coaching staff in achieving our goals.”
Munster Rugby Home Fixtures
Saturday, April 16
Champions Cup Round of 16: Munster v Exeter Chiefs, Thomond Park, 3pm; Buy tickets here
Friday, April 29
URC: Munster v Cardiff Rugby, Musgrave Park, 7.35pm; Buy tickets here
Images & Content from Munster Rugby
Ulster name team for Toulouse
The Ulster match-day squad has been selected for the first leg of the Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 versus Toulouse at Le Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Ben Moxham will make his first European start for Ulster as he is named on the left wing alongside Mike Lowry at full-back and Robert Baloucoune on the right wing. Stuart McCloskey comes in to start and will partner with James Hume in the centre. Billy Burns and John Cooney return to form the half-back pairing.
The front row sees Eric O’Sullivan and Rob Herring named at loosehead and hooker, with Marty Moore retaining his place at tighthead prop. Alan O’Connor returns to pair up with captain Iain Henderson in the second row. Marcus Rea comes in at blindside flanker, with Nick Timoney and Duane Vermeulen retained at openside and Number Eight respectively.
Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell and Jordi Murphy provide the forward reinforcements on the bench. Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall and Rob Lyttle will offer the back line options.
Ulster team to play Toulouse, Heineken Champions Cup Round of 16 First Leg, Saturday 9 April at Le Stadium, 3.15pm kick-off (UK / IRE time), live on BT Sport, beIN Sports, FR2:
(15-9) Mike Lowry, Robert Baloucoune, James Hume, Stuart McCloskey, Ben Moxham, Billy Burns, John Cooney;
(1-8) Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor, Iain Henderson (Capt.), Marcus Rea, Nick Timoney, Duane Vermeulen.
Replacements: Brad Roberts, Andrew Warwick, Tom O’Toole, Kieran Treadwell, Jordi Murphy, Nathan Doak, Luke Marshall, Rob Lyttle.