Saturday 10 December 2016

We have yet to fully click, warns Kearney

Published 15/10/2016 | 02:30

Rob Kearney and Leinster get their European campaign underway today. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Rob Kearney and Leinster get their European campaign underway today. Photo by Matt Browne/Sportsfile

There has been a steady increase in the level of Leinster's performances over the last four weeks and while there is a realisation amongst the squad that a step up is needed for this afternoon's visit of Castres, they begin their Champions Cup campaign quietly confident.

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The fact that degree of confidence exits even without Johnny Sexton, who misses out with a tight hamstring, speaks volumes about the strides that have already been made this season.

Yet, no one in Leinster is getting carried away. After all, their horrendous start to last season's European campaign is still very much fresh in the minds.

The way in which Leinster moved through the gears without ever hitting full throttle against Munster last weekend suggested that there is plenty still to come from this side and that is certainly the opinion of Rob Kearney.

"I think we still have a fair bit to go," the full-back maintained.

"I think defensively we've made some really big strides over the last four or five weeks. I think our attack game has still a fair bit of growth in it. It's just trying to improve on them week on week. Tomorrow is another day where we need improvement and probably a little bit more than we've seen over the last four or five weeks."

Sexton is expected to recover in time for next week's trip to Montpellier and his absence opens the door for Joey Carbery to make his European debut.

As Leo Cullen pointed out yesterday, the 20-year-old New Zealand born out-half has made the step up whenever it has been demanded of him but today will be his toughest test yet.

"I think from Joey we have seen his ability to attack the line, his pace, his footwork," Kearney said.

"Obviously, Johnny is a very compete player, so he doesn't have too many deficiencies, but I think there are a few things that Joey can really bring tomorrow.

"There's been a couple of times this season where we have seen that he does have that tactical awareness, and if he needs to manage a game, he can do that.

"So I suppose for Joey, it's just that decision making and trying to manage the game and when to take on a man and when to potentially have some tactical awareness too."

Castres are not the force they once were and their 2013 Top 14 success is all but a distant memory.

They have struggled in the early part of the season and are languishing just two places outside of the relegation zone of the Top 14.

Their hugely influential South African-born, French international scrum-half Rory Kockott starts on the bench which in itself may already be an indication of where their priorities lie.

Cullen, however, sees it differently.

"A lot of the stuff they're saying, they feel they want to perform in Europe and they want to give it a good crack this year," the Leinster coach mused.

"We need to be on guard. They go hard at the breakdown, they've got pace and guys who have good evasive skills as well that are able to punish you off the turnover ball.

"Again, it's being aware of the threat but we need to focus on what we can control as well ourselves, so it's making sure we're as best prepared so we understand what we're facing. We know that if we get our parts right, we'll be hard to beat here in the RDS."

This is a Castres side who haven't won a Champions Cup game since November 2013 and have lost all nine top-flight European games in Ireland.

Leinster have the opportunity to banish the memories of last season's disappointing campaign by getting off to an ideal start at home today and even without their chief orchestrator, they should have more than enough quality to do just that. Verdict: Leinster

Leinster - R Kearney; Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Carbery, L McGrath; J McGrath, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, I Nagle; R Ruddock, J van der Flier, J Heaslip. Reps: J Tracy, C Healy, M Ross, R Molony, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, C Marsh, N Reid.

Castres - G Palis; R Grosso, T Combezou, R Ebersohn, D Smith; B Urdapilleta, A Dupont; A Tichit, J Jenneker, D Kotze; V Moreaux, R Capo Ortega (cap); M Babillot, S Mafi, A Tulou. Reps: B Mach, M Lazar, D Tussac, T Lassale, A Jelonch, R Kockott, M Javaux, F Vialelle.

REF - M Carley (England)

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