Former coach Girvan Dempsey intimately familiar with 'the Leinster Way'

If there is anyone within Bath’s camp who knows what to expect when Leinster come to town this weekend it is Girvan Dempsey.

The former full-back brought an end to his 23-year association with the province this summer, when he left his job as attack coach to take up a similar role with Bath.

Before the 43-year-old was helping craft the playbook that led Leinster to the Heineken Champions Cup and PRO14 titles last season, he made 198 appearances for the Irish province as a player. Upon retirement he became player development manager before moving into a coaching role in the academy.

Bath’s attack coach Girvan Dempsey, who had a 23-year association with Leinster, faces an emotional day as he welcomes his former club to the Rec today. Picture: INPHO/James Crombie

Such a career path means Dempsey has unparalleled knowledge of Leinster, given the fact he has played for them, developed their young stars and coached their attack.

With Bath welcoming his old club to the Rec today in a fixture crucial to the outcome of Pool 1, you would fully

expect staff at the Premiership club to be leaning on Dempsey for an insight into their opponents. Particularly when he reveals he has not seen huge changes in Leinster’s attack since former fly-half Felipe Contepomi replaced him in the summer.

“There are a lot of similarities in terms of how they are playing,” says Dempsey.

“They have changed up a couple of little tweaks here and there, but they base their game on momentum and have over the years.

“You can see they gain momentum from first-phase strike right the way through and they look to keep that and keep on top of teams. They do that through some very strong ball-carriers, and their breakdown and ruck work is exceptional.

“It always has been a highlight and target of theirs, and I know Joe Schmidt would say the same thing from an Ireland perspective. That has filtered down and they pride themselves on that.

“They realise that is a key principle in terms of the way they want to attack, ‘the Leinster Way’ as they call it. There are a couple of little tweaks but, in general, what they are doing works so they are not massively changing.”

However, as Dempsey is quick to point out, it is one thing knowing what you are about to face, it is another thing stopping it.

“It is like anything. You can preempt certain things,” he adds. 

But within our defence system we just have to be pretty strong, to be ready for the challenge, because we know it is coming.

I think you can’t afford to be on the back foot. You can’t afford to allow them to get that quick ball and momentum, otherwise you are going to be soaking tackles and conceding yards all day long.

It promises to be an emotional affair for Dempsey, but above all else it is excitement that is washing over him.

The chance to test himself against Leinster is something he is relishing, particularly as they are the number one team in Europe at the moment. That, for a competitor like Dempsey, is exactly what gets the juices flowing.

However, the excitement is born too of facing many players he nurtured through the Leinster academy. The likes of Tadhg Furlong and Garry Ringrose made their first steps in the game under Dempsey and he has got

immense joy out of their rise to the top.

“You could see the natural talent of those kids. That was fairly evident, but it was about honing their skills, honing their game appreciation,” he says.

“You look at Tadhg, his functional role as a tight-head prop is exceptional — his scrum, line-out, all his bits and pieces. Added to that he is incredibly mobile. He is a natural footballer and also has a deft left foot.

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“Obviously Garry is just such an intelligent student of the game. From early on working with him through the younger ages at Leinster right through to the academy, you could see how smart he was and how easily he got the game.

“I think he reads the game really, really well. I think he has the skillset and ability to back that up as well.

“It has been massively exciting.

“It has been really great to see them grow and develop over the years, and get the rewards of international representation off the back of hard work that they put in.”

In many ways, players like Furlong and Ringrose are the template for what Dempsey is trying to achieve at Bath.

He may have left Leinster, but that has not stopped his admiration for his old province. In Dempsey’s eyes they are “the pinnacle” and he wants to bring their model to Bath. Dempsey wants the club to have their own academy stars, their own Furlong and Ringrose.

Dempsey when he was Leinster coach.

Undoubtedly that will take time, but Dempsey is clearly committed to Bath.

His family have made the move over to England with him and he has been assured of a place in Stuart Hooper’s staff when he replaces Todd Blackadder as their director of rugby in 2020.

It is clear that Dempsey is already firmly part of the fabric and the opportunity to help transform the club helps explain why he took the plunge to leave Leinster.

“Bath have links to a school here and there are a lot of feeder regions, clubs and schools within the area,” he says.

“But a real ambition of ours from top to bottom — CEO, coaching staff right down to the academy — is to try and grow our own homegrown talent and do that over the next couple of years.

“I think that is one of the targets and one of the things I am excited about being involved in, sharing my experiences from an academy point of view to try and do that in Bath.

“We are very fortunate in that we have a really good academy manager in Andy Rock, who runs an excellent programme, and it has been really enjoyable talking to him about my experiences and learning how the system works here as well.

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“I think we have got a couple of guys coming through now who have ability. So we are trying to help, grow and develop them in the future.

“I think they have the potential to have a very, very successful career and high honours. That is always what we want to do.

“I think it is good to have people like Stuart Hooper involved, who really know the fabric of the club and exactly what the club is all about. I think he is the lifeblood of the club.

“I suppose it’s similar to what Leo Cullen was with Leinster. I think it is important to have people like that involved.”

Finding the next Furlong or Ringrose is a task for future and right now Dempsey is focused on today’s clash.

On the face of it, Bath are firm outsiders, still looking for a first win in Europe this season.

However, they were unfortunate to not beat Toulouse on the opening weekend and their 35-35 draw with Wasps could have gone either way.

It is why Dempsey has optimism heading into today’s game, especially as he believes there is opportunities for his new attack to find a way past his old side’s defence.

“I still closely watch what they do. I watch all their games,” he says.

From an attacking point there are opportunities there as well. I think teams have shown that. Toulouse showed that, Wasps showed that, Munster showed that at the Aviva.

There are opportunities for us, so the challenge is to make sure we exploit them.