Leinster hoping Enfield visit can ignite fire
Published 08/01/2013 | 05:00
Enfield, December 12, 2008. An appointment forever etched in Irish rugby history even though there wasn't an oval ball kicked in fury.
For, on that opening day of a 48-hour international camp, the Irish squad unveiled a swathe of emotionally cleansing and tactically forthright messages that would, ultimately, aid their passage towards only a second Grand Slam campaign.
Perhaps Enfield, January 7, 2013 can prove to be as portentous for Leinster, after they decamped to the Meath venue ahead of a defining fortnight in their season. The geographical symmetry may be merely coincidental.
After all, Leinster are seasoned European champions at this stage, which is more that can be said of the national side, who have failed to reproduce the heights that propelled them to that one-off success.
They've pulled this trick before. Less celebrated than Ireland's summit of four seasons ago is the fact that Leinster confronted their own crisis of confidence during a similar winter of discontent. Undone by Castres in France and lucky to snatch a losing bonus point against Wasps, Michael Cheika's men were then, as now, looking likely to slink meekly from the well-established contenders lining up for European glory.
"Confidence wasn't high in the camp as we faced into Christmas," recalled captain Leo Cullen later. "We were in the public eye after the backlash from the defeat in Castres."
A night out in Naas, Cullen believes, firmly engendered the renewed sense of belief and assurance that would be required to, ultimately, plot their successful maiden voyage towards success in Murrayfield just five months later.
Teams at a crossroads – as Ireland and Leinster were then (and Leinster assuredly are now in their perilous quest to keep alive the dream of a hat-trick of European titles) – can seek inspiration from introspection. Not that Leinster seek to invest as much significance into this two-day summit.
"It's just for a change, really," according to manager Guy Easterby. "We don't really do any trips and stuff like that in pre-season so occasionally we just head out there for a change of scenery.
"It is a massive couple of weekends for us, but if we don't get things right this weekend then the second week counts for nothing. So it will just be about focusing and a change of environment and having some time together.
"I wouldn't necessarily draw any parallels with Ireland. It's just that we travel back after every game on the night, which means we miss out in having some of that time together.
"So we are going to go down there to have an afternoon of training, chill out and have dinner together. We spend a lot of time in UCD but we do try to get the players out of here as quickly as they can so that they can freshen up their days.
"So it is just nice to go down there and spend some time together as a group. That doesn't take away from the importance of the game. Everyone understands it is a big game for us."
With the squad at full strength for the first time this campaign, there is a sense of renewal at this pivotal juncture.
The squad's stint in Enfield could mark the beginning of something special. Or the beginning of the end of their superlative reign. The omens can only be unveiled in retrospect.
"Maybe that's how the perception will be and that's not a bad thing either," avers Easterby. "It's not that we need to focus anymore, but it is always good to go down there and have the game plans reiterated to you and to understand the magnitude of the game on the weekend.
"We have got to get a win. It's as simple as that. If it is a 1pc help then it is a worthwhile trip. We have had a lot of time where there were a lot of players not available whether that be a young player or a senior player, we have always had players out.
"This is the first time the majority of the group has been available so we can go down there and train hard and also we are together as a group. Whenever you do go away as a group, you take 25/26 but we are all going down there and spending some time together."
It really is all or nothing and nothing will be gained unless all are involved.
In that sense, the confirmation that Brian O'Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Rob Kearney reported no ill effects from their weekend comebacks is a significant boost to Leinster's unlikely qualification tilt.
Add to that the availability of Isa Nacewa, Richardt Strauss, Dave Kearney and Eoin O'Malley and perhaps the 5/2 odds against Leinster emerging from Pool 5 are worth a nibble. Their past, a redoubtable recent history of stellar achievement, may yet inform their future. And they should be reminded of that fact during their mini-summit.
"Our history over the last few years would hold us in good stead in showing us our ability to perform and get results under pressure," adds Easterby.
"We just have to draw on our past experience, know that this is a must-win game and do our utmost to win it.
"Reminding the players visually of past achievements is something that every team uses, that clarity of message you get from what has happened before. It is not just talk." Anyhow, Leinster know it's far too late for that.