Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Matt O'Connor delighted with Leinster's fight for places

Starting place: Jimmy Gopperth has taken over at out-half

Assumptions are always a dangerous currency amongst sports fans, especially those who had Ian Madigan slated to automatically assume Jonny Sexton's berth in the out-half role at Leinster. Not so.

Jimmy Gopperth has piloted the team superbly and it looks like he will do so again, having been trotted out to accompany Leinster's sponsorship renewal with CityJet yesterday. No drama.

"It's a broken record," said coach Matt O'Connor. "Jimmy is a great player. I've been lucky enough to coach against him in Super Rugby and (when he was) at Newcastle, and he delivers and facilitates for the team brilliantly.

"Now, Jimmy and Ian are going to be involved every week. That's the reality of it, they'll be involved every game and it will be horses for courses, and if one of them takes the opportunity we'll see how far that goes, and vice versa.

"But they're both incredibly important players to the group, and does it mean that Ian is out of the equation? Certainly not, he's a quality footballer.

"He's still learning his trade and he's delivered for the team this season and historically, so we'll just approach it week to week."

For Gopperth, the step up from second-tier English rugby would seem to be an inordinate one, but that would be dismissing a wealth of experience garnered in the most severe hothouse of them all – New Zealand.

He came to Ireland with assumptions knocking around his head, too. Chiefly that he wasn't crossing the Irish Sea merely to ride the pine.

"I suppose every player wants to start and that's the great thing about competition in our squad," says the 30-year-old.

"I knew coming over here how well Ian went (last season) and the way I looked at it was that it was a brilliant challenge for myself. And that's the way we look at it when we're training, we're trying to better each other.

"If one of us is pushing the other harder, whoever gets the opportunity to start will be better for the team because if there's a little slump of form, the other one will slot straight in.

"So that's the way we try to work and it should be benefiting the team."

Both players are likely to dovetail this weekend, with Madigan expected to emerge for the final quarter, presuming Castres don't cast off their usual attitude and actually compete in an away Heineken Cup clash.

Gopperth feels he belongs at a club he says is admired throughout the world.

"Everyone talked about Leinster and how they come up with new moves and are a very skillful side. Every team around the world. You'd see Leinster do a move and then try to emulate it on your pitch the next week," he said.

"We were doing that at Newcastle, guys were doing it all around England. That's the beauty about Leinster, they are not afraid to have a crack and be inventive."

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