Saturday 10 December 2016

Murphy calls for 'injection of pace' in top-six race

Published 05/05/2015 | 02:30

Leinster's Jordi Murphy has called on Leinster to ensure a European spot for next season (David Maher / SPORTSFILE)
Leinster's Jordi Murphy has called on Leinster to ensure a European spot for next season (David Maher / SPORTSFILE)

May is normally the time when Leinster's voracious hunter gatherers step up their quest for silverware; instead, this season's more humble collective are scrapping for their very status amongst the European elite.

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From a high-water mark of achievement represented by seven trophies in seven seasons, Leinster enter the final month of the campaign without anything substantial to play for.

Or so it would seem; in reality, Leinster's status as one of Europe's biggest clubs is on the line this next fortnight as they need six points from their final two fixtures, at home to Treviso this Friday and then in Edinburgh, merely to confirm the right to be involved in the Champions Cup next season.

If not, their best chance of securing silverware next term might still come in Europe - but in the second-tier Challenge Cup, scrapping away with the lesser lights from the continent's also-rans.

Leinster have based their exalted rise on becoming kings of Europe - losing the right to recapture that status would be a stinging blow to their reputation and, most worryingly of all, their coffers.

After getting a severe rap on the knuckles from the IRFU and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt last month concerning Leinster coach Matt O'Connor's complaints about the availability of their internationals, there was a subtle sense of the club ceding the moral high ground yesterday.

In essence, it would seem that Leinster are now admitting that they were also at fault in the manner in which they deployed their stellar resources - and their vastly underwhelming reserves - at times throughout their campaign.

The IRFU, unless there is a dramatic late intervention, will allow them to unleash their big guns for the final two games which will decide Leinster's fate; they, too, it seems, acknowledge the damage that would result in their 20-plus contingent playing second-rate rugby for a season.

"Well obviously we only have two games to go so everyone should understand the significance of these two weeks and where we are in terms of qualifying for Europe next season," is assistant coach Leo Cullen's pointed assessment of the dire straits in which the most productive conveyor belt to the national team find themselves.

"It's not the situation where we would have thought we would have found ourselves at the start of this season.

Dimensions

"But with meritocracy, there are so many different dimensions at play at this stage of the season, and throughout the season, which we probably haven't got our head around in terms of managing our resources, I think it is fair to say.

"We are playing a team this week in Treviso who have a lot to play for in that they still have to finish ahead of Zebre, who they are just ahead of with two games to go, to qualify for Europe themselves.

"So they'll be trying to get as many points as possible. Then we play Edinburgh the following week and they're trying to get into sixth and potentially, after results this week, get themselves into fifth.

"So our focus is to stay in that fifth spot and see where it gets us in terms of where we might be seeded in Europe next year. That's a different conundrum. It's simple, if we finish fifth, we will qualify for Europe; that's the main thing."

Jordi Murphy's entire professional career, short though it may have been, has been immersed in the late-season quest for trophies, not to mention his teenage years as a supporter.

Understandably, he finds it difficult to countenance a season outside the upper echelons of the European elite.

"I can't imagine not being in Europe but we know that we have it in our hands and we've got to make sure that we are," the back-rower bullishly declares.

"Edinburgh and Scarlets are only four or five points behind us and we know that if we turn up like we have to some games this year we're going to get turned over by a good Treviso side.

"In fairness, despite a bad start to the season, they drew with us already 24-24 and I wouldn't be surprised if that spurred them on to think that they can come over here and cause another upset.

"It is good still have a focus considering the amount of trophies Leinster have been in contention for over the last number of years, the focus of staying in the top six is keeping us all on our toes.

"We haven't been on a good run of form, that's obvious for everyone to see but we know that we just have to step it up a gear and Treviso are fighting for their own European place next year - they're four points ahead of Zebre and that's a battle in itself.

"It showed how they went out and played against Munster last week, they went out and scored three tries and I thought that was quite impressive.

"They have good strong aspects of their game like the rolling maul and they've a good squad so they're not coming over here to roll over - it's going to be tough battle."

Too often, Leinster have been passive this season; now they must bring out a massive performance for the final push, even if the rewards seem relatively ignominious.

"We need to inject a bit of pace into our game," insists Murphy. "We got off to a good start against Ulster but then we tailed off and then they got up a head of steam and got the crowd behind them.

"We need to have a good start, obviously, the support will be there at the RDS and we need to rile them up and get that 16th man behind us."

Irish Independent

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