Saturday 27 May 2017

'Last week is nothing if we can't back it up at home'

Conan and Healy adamant Leinster won't be 'caught on the hop' by wounded Saints

Jack Conan, pictured, and Cian Healy insist Leinster will take nothing for granted what they face Northampton on Saturday Picture: Sportsfile
Jack Conan, pictured, and Cian Healy insist Leinster will take nothing for granted what they face Northampton on Saturday Picture: Sportsfile

Tom Rooney

Perhaps it's just a means of safeguarding against complacency with a rematch on the horizon, but Irish teams have recently taken to highlighting the potential reaction of opponents who have just been put to the sword.

Following Ireland's historic win over the All Blacks in Chicago, the prominent narrative coming from their camp was that they were bracing themselves for a ferocious response from the double world champions at the Aviva Stadium.

We were told that Ireland's level of performance in Soldier Field just wouldn't do against the wounded Kiwis in Dublin.

There has been more of the same this week from Munster and Leinster, who made light work of Leicester and Northampton in their Champions Cup pool fixtures last weekend.

Munster skipper Peter O'Mahony described the December back-to-back as a "different animal" - something he is surely expecting the Tigers to be on Saturday evening at Welford Road.

Leinster and Northampton were at this juncture not too long ago. In 2013, the Blues went to Franklin's Gardens and trounced the Saints 40-7 - with Luke Fitzgerald scoring a memorable hat-trick - but the result was reversed by the Saints at Aviva Stadium just seven days later.

Injury had kept Cian Healy out of the action that night, and he recalls an exacting post-mortem under Matt O'Connor. The prop reckons that Northampton will have undertaken a similar review during the week.

"I was watching it from the stand trying to figure out what happened," he recalled. "It was hard to take and it took a lot of reviewing and soul-searching to try and figure out what happened.

"We're not going to get caught on the hop this time because we've been on the end of matches like that before and there will have been a fairly intense meeting over there.

"They're the days where you come together as a pack so we'll be expecting a big lash off them."

"We have a system now with how we break things down and don't bring too much forward to the following week. We pick what we want to work on, have a very brief look at what went well and exercise everything for the weekend."

If Leinster do only take a cursory glance at the facets of play they excelled at last week, then their scrum and overall forward domination will be on the agenda.

Squeeze

Their pack put the squeeze on the Northampton eight - who initially had Dylan Hartley on the bench and were without suspended tighthead Kieran Brookes - which, according to Healy, is the result of an increased focus on that area with scrum coach John Fogarty.

"I was fairly surprised with it, but at the same time not," he said. "We've been putting a lot of work into it, we had them well scouted.

"We picked up the heat a bit in Leinster training this season with scrummaging. There's been high focus put on it, and when you have that many reps done against good opposition, you build confidence in what you're doing."

The 29-year-old has been luckless with injury over the last few years but resembled the force of old during his appearances for Ireland last month. He claimed to be in fine fettle and would jump at the chance of a starting berth.

"I'd love to. I'm training as hard as I can and in the best shape I've been in for a couple of years now," he said. "I'm putting my best foot forward to get back to it. At the same time, Jack (McGrath) is a very good operator so it's a good test for me now."

Healy was sprung from the bench during a raft of changes around the hour mark, as was Jack Conan, who replaced Séan O'Brien, who was forced off by Hartley's swinging arm.

Another who has battled back from a raft of injuries, Conan made his first European appearance in over a year and chipped in with seven tackles during a fine cameo.

While watching the action, he quickly noticed his team-mates' superiority up front, but, true to form, he predicted a significant fallout on Saturday.

"We knew they'd try to maul us and scrum us for the 80 minutes, but I think we kind of beat them at their own game, gave the backs some extra space to exploit," he said. "It was a focal point of our game. Hopefully do the same again this week.

"Last weekend is nothing if we can't back it up at home. We've looked at that game and seen that there are massive areas we can improve in, and they'll have done the same, so we're going to be ready for it.

"It's something that we'll always have in the back of our heads that we did go over there and beat them, but then they came to the Aviva and beat us."

Irish Independent

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