Former English international Stuart Barnes joined Monday Night Rugby on Off The Ball to talk about Leinster being micro-managed and the lack of great players in Europe.
Ulster were well beaten at the end of 80 minutes by what Barnes deemed as a rusty Toulouse side.
This was down in no small part to the performances of Cheslin Kolbe, who scored a brace, and Antoine Dupont, who was involved in the setup for both tries.
“You do put yourself under risk every time you kick a ball to someone like Cheslin Kolbe,” Barnes said.
“Dan McFarland’s comment there, he recognised that when Toulouse get the ball, as much as any team in Europe, they can score a try from anywhere.”
True greatness is rare
For many teams, their success or failure is based off of the performances of a select few players.
Players such as Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton, Charles Piutau or CJ Stander are often called “great” or “world class” by fans or pundits, but Barnes believes they are used too liberally.
“’Great’ is an overused word, [as is] ‘world class’; I hear that Charles Piutau is world class for Bristol, but he didn’t get in the last New Zealand World Cup squad,” Barnes said.
“World class is like someone who is one of the two best players in the world in his position and they make gigantic differences to a match.
“Liam [Toland] has nailed the case for [Maro] Itoje now being a great player on the back of that performance as well as others.
“He is absolutely right and it was the fundamental difference between [Leinster and Saracens].”
Leinster are micro-managed
Barnes suggested that Leinster’s losing performance against Saracens was similar to the early days of Stuart Lancaster’s England side.
“To me, I saw a Leinster team that were playing quite similar rugby to how England were playing in the very early days under Stuart Lancaster,” he said.
“When I was commentating for Sky, I used to bemoan the fact that they were going sideways; left, right, nowhere forward between the 10 metre line and the halfway line.
“They would inevitably, against powerful teams, leak penalties; you leak penalties in your own half you’re likely to leak points.”
Barnes continued to suggest that this type of play, when players are unable to break from the structures and patterns, is down to a particular coaching style.
“Mark McCall macro-managed Saracens,” Barnes said.
“They went in there knowing what they had to do in the broadest sense, and then were told to play the game.
“We scrum, we hit at the gain line, defence and attack, we box kick, we play them into parts of the field they don’t want to be.
“Leinster, if there’s a weakness in Stuart Lancaster, he sometimes micro-manages.
“He used to say with England, ‘I work so hard on the players thinking for themselves but they’re not getting it.’
“That is because if you coach in a certain way where there is so much in the way of phase rugby, then it’s very hard for players to actually divorce themselves from that micro-management.
“I felt that Leinster suffered in an English sort of way, and I felt that Johnny Sexton played very much like a lot of English flyhalves were doing in the early Lancaster era.”
The combination of the micro-managing from Lancaster and Leo Cullen, mixed with Itoje being the only great player on the park, lead to Leinster’s downfall, according to Barnes.
Toulouse have two great players
Barnes believes that the presence of just one great player is enough to drastically effect the outcome of a match.
“Now, if you look at Ulster, they’ve got decent players who are ok there,” Barnes said.
“They are a team of high class handicappers, and then they come up against Toulouse.
“[Toulouse] have got arguably the best winger in the world in Cheslin Kolbe and probably, in Antoine Dupont, the only bloke in the world that is going to knock Aaron Smith out of the number nine shirt.
“They get the ball, and things happen from absolutely nowhere.
“You think you’re in contention and suddenly your head is befuddled.”
Toulouse, who had only played two matches post-lockdown, and only won one of them, were not firing on all cylinders against Ulster.
“Toulouse were playing slowly, they were making errors and they were poor,” Barnes said.
“In the space of 10 minutes, Kolbe just comes off his boot, poor old Jacob Stockdale looks like he doesn’t know what country he’s in, what time of day it is, but Cheslin Kolbe will do that to anyone.”
Barnes believes that Toulouse beat Ulster more comfortably than Leinster did a week earlier, because Leinster do not have any great players.
“They have two great players. I wouldn’t say Leinster have one,” Barnes said.
“I would probably say the Premiership has one in that man Itoje; it is a rarity.
“Toulouse have got two of them and it makes them extremely dangerous.”
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