Saturday 19 August 2017

Blues told to raise game at Ravenhill

Schmidt demands even more after Clermont rout

Hugh Farrelly

DESPITE an excellent 24-8 victory over French champions Clermont in Lansdowne Road last weekend, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt is looking for improvements when his side play Ulster, weather permitting, in the Magners League next Monday at Ravenhill.

With players being rested under the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme, both selections are likely to differ considerably from the teams that triumphed in Dublin and Bath but Schmidt, although delighted with the outcome last weekend, still wants an increase in overall efficiency.

"If I'm brutally honest, we let ourselves down a bit in the last half hour at the weekend," said Schmidt.

"We weren't as accurate as we'd been in the first 50 or so minutes and our intensity dropped, allowing them back into the game while we missed out on a bonus point. In saying that, it was a massive positive to get the four points and lead Clermont five to four over the two games."

Eoin O'Malley, who missed last weekend's match after injuring his rib in the Stade Marcel Michelin clash the week before, remains a doubt for the Ulster match and his progress will be monitored over the next few days.

The weather has complicated Leinster's preparations once again, with Tuesday's training session at UCD cancelled due to heavy snowfalls, and the province are seeking a venue for training today or tomorrow.

However, Schmidt is grateful for the extra time between matches after two high-octane clashes with Clermont within six days of each other.

"The extra couple of days rest are much needed after the rigours of a six-day turnaround and two really physical games against Clermont, so the players feel somewhat refreshed," added Schmidt.

"We'll need to have a mix of a bit of courage and greater accuracy to get a win. With the weather turning again, this has meant that our on-field preparations have been affected somewhat, but we'll work hard irrespective.

"There will be changes because a number of international players are missing, so that will present an opportunity for others and we'll have to be right on the money against Ulster because they are a very good side who are brimming with confidence."

Those changes could see Shaun Berne come back into the equation in the backline. The Australian midfielder has only played 77 minutes this season since recovering from injury but could feature at out-half or centre.

It should also be an opportunity for second-row Devin Toner, who won his first international cap during the November Series but was on the bench behind captain Leo Cullen and Nathan Hines for the Clermont back-to-backs.

Cullen and Hines were central to the physical performance of Leinster's front five over the last two weekends but Toner has made considerable progress this season, developing his all-round game to go with noted line-out skills, and Ulster would be a good test as second-row is an area where Brian McLaughlin's squad is particularly strong.


Ulster are in fifth place in the table on the same points (28) as fourth-placed Ospreys with Leinster one spot further back on 26 points, having played 10 games to Ulster's nine. Schmidt has been impressed by Ulster in their back-to-back victories over Bath and knows some of their South African contingent from his time coaching in the Super 14.

"I was interested to read Brian McLaughlin's comments after their win over Bath last weekend when he said that he didn't think that they played that well," said Schmidt.

"That's a warning to us and if they play better again, they will definitely be a real handful. They have quality all over the park and the nature of these inter-provincial derbies is special because there's competition for places in the Irish squad as well as having important league points up for grabs and provincial pride to play for.

"They have recruited smartly and they're gelling from week to week.

"Tom Court has done really well and obviously has the confidence of the national coaching panel, and even though Rory Best may be missing, they have two good young hookers who have impressed me.

"BJ Botha is a quality performer, as is Johann Muller, and I'm well aware of his qualities and those of Ruan Pienaar from their time with the Sharks when I was coaching in Auckland. Ian Humphreys has kicked really well and with Paddy Wallace's deft touches and quick feet combining with Darren Cave in the midfield, we'll have to be sound defensively."

Leinster face Connacht at the RDS on New Year's Day in their second inter-provincial in five days with 15,000 tickets already sold for a fixture that proved to be one of last season's most entertaining games -- Leinster holding on for 17-14 win despite two superb tries by Fionn Carr (linked with a return to Leinster next season).

"It's an exciting time in the year for our supporters because they have a bit more time to get to matches and that support is appreciated," said Schmidt.

"If they can be as vocal as they were last weekend that would be a really big plus for us. It kick-starts an important period because Connacht will travel to the RDS with confidence based on the last few years where the games between the two teams have been tight affairs.

"But, for us, it's about Ulster this week. They're a quality side and they're coming into the game on a high; it will be a really tough contest."

Irish Independent

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