Former Springbok prop BJ Botha played 58 matches for Ulster and 111 for Munster between 2008 and 2016. He gives the URC a breakdown of just what makes the Irish giants Leinster so special and difficult to beat.
Dublin is a big city and has a massive hub of private schools that produce talented players year in year out. The Leinster brand is incredibly strong and for these schoolboys the dream is to play for Leinster.
The talent identification is spot on, but there is also a great working relationship between Leinster and these school institutions, many of which are very well resourced with excellent coaches and staff.
These coaches and staff report directly to Leinster and the High Performance Staff on a constant basis. I know quite a few of the various school Director’s of Rugby (DOR) and they are in regular contact with the senior staff at Leinster.
This recruitment process also allows them to select and upskill a lot of local players and generally Leinster have not signed many foreigners over the years when compared to Ulster and Munster. The other plus is that when they have signed big international players most times they have contributed massively, played over 100 games, have dedicated themselves to the club and embraced the history and ethos of the club.
This also again points out their great recruitment process, not only signing superstars but players that play week in week and contribute massively to the culture in the club. Each one of their most recent international signings, Isa Nacewa, Rocky Elsom and Brad Thorne were massive in adding to the success of Leinster.
The sprinkling of overseas veterans, combined with the local internationals has always combined with a very strong belief in youth. They are leaders in upskilling school players, who comfortably then make the transition into Academy structure and into the professional squads.
Another factor for me is their coaching systems which in a way are always measurable, down to the last ruck or tackle. I know (former Ireland coach) Joe Schmidt brought in a lot of this and he would not miss a thing, which created a culture of players taking responsibility and ownership of their performance.
This culture is infectious and immediately those youngsters going into the system know what the expectation is and what standards they need to achieve.
These systems allow Leinster to do what a lot of teams can’t, which is to build player depth and manage their squad so well, which is a big contributor to how often they win away from home.
They are particularly difficult to beat in Dublin and the Vodacom Bulls couldn’t have gotten it any tougher as a semi-final opponent. Leinster squeeze the life out of teams because the players trust the systems so well, have faith in each other and don’t easily buckle to pressure.
They have senior players who lead by example and bring calmness in big games.
South African rugby’s exposure to a side like Leinster is only now starting to happen because of the United Rugby Championship but as South African fans experience more matches against them, they will come to admire them and respect them as much as I did as a player.
They were always the team to beat and they remain the team to beat in the league.
Leinster set the standard – and it is a pretty special standard.