“You have this power game where Leinster have come unstuck in the past.”
Brian O’Driscoll has identified a number of areas where Leinster went wrong during their defeat to French side La Rochelle.
Despite going into Sunday’s Heineken Champions Cup semi-final as favourites, Leinster were beaten 32-23 by Ronan O’Gara’s French side, a defeat which leaves Leo Cullen and his coaching staff with a lot of questions to answer.
Brian O’Driscoll on Leinster defeat.
The Irish province were hoping to add a fifth European star to their jersey but O’Driscoll believes that O’Gara had his homework done, with La Rochelle’s physicality ultimately proving the difference between the two teams.
“It just felt like an incredibly well-organised performance defensively from La Rochelle,” O’Driscoll told BT Sport after the game.
“And then you have this power game where Leinster have come unstuck in the past with Saracens, La Rochelle just adopted that with some of their big players; [Will] Skelton, [Uini] Antonio, [Gregory] Alldritt all had huge carries and Leinster just couldn’t handle it.”
O’Driscoll on La Rochelle’s set-piece.
The former Ireland captain thought La Rochelle got the basics of their game spot-on, which gave them a good platform to go ahead and seal a convincing victory.
“Their set piece was really strong. They just got the mechanics of their basics going really good, and if you keep hammering away at any team’s line, eventually you are going to cross the whitewash,” O’Driscoll continued.
“Particularly if you have got specimens the size of Skelton and the physical capabilities of Alldritt and [Kevin] Gourdon.
“It was a really great 23 man performance, and even the coaching ticket got their tactics spot-on. They didn’t try to play too much in their own half; they won all the micro-battles.”
The BT pundit singled out one player who he felt was once again the difference against Leinster in a European match, after playing a similar role for Saracens in the 2019 final.
“[Skelton] adds a different dimension to how they play. When there is someone that big and that powerful, but has the ability to show the soft hands and the offloading game pre- and post-contact, you never know what he is going to do,” O’Driscoll added.
“As soon as you brace for the collision, he pops it to some other runner coming short on him. Or as soon as you turn soft, expecting him to offload, he will bulldoze over the top of you.
“It was almost a plug-and-play from what Saracens did to Leinster a few years ago. He must have been hyping that up throughout the week saying ‘this is how we managed to beat them in the final, let’s just try and do more of the same’, and got the just rewards.”
Skelton earned praise for his performance from a number of former players, including Bernard Jackman.