Saturday 25 March 2017

Leamy anticipating 'savage' clash with wounded Leinster

Hugh Farrelly

MUNSTER'S stand-in captain Denis Leamy says previous results have no bearing on Saturday's derby showdown at Lansdowne Road, but Leinster head into the clash knowing that their season is in danger of falling apart.

Munster notched up their fourth victory from four outings last Friday in Glasgow, picking up a bonus point on the way, to push them three points clear of the Scarlets at the top of the Magners League table.

However, while Munster were continuing their surging start to the season, Leinster were collecting their third defeat across in Murrayfield, going down in abject fashion to an Edinburgh side that had lost its three previous outings.

With a rampant Munster next up, followed by daunting Heineken Cup assignments at home to Top 14 table-toppers Racing Metro and away to Saracens (who defeated an in-form Northampton 24-17 yesterday), Leinster's season could effectively be over by the middle of October.

Leinster have won their last four meetings with their southern rivals but are currently 12 points behind Munster after only four rounds of the league. Nonetheless, Leamy believes the nature of the rivalry serves as a great leveller.

"This is two of the best teams in European rugby coming face-to-face in a local rivalry," said Leamy. "It should be savage. All bets are off. This is different, completely different. What's gone previously really doesn't matter."

However, there is no question Leinster coach Joe Schmidt finds himself under huge pressure early into his tenure as Michael Cheika's successor. The restrictions of injury and Ireland's player management scheme have hindered the New Zealander's efforts, while three away fixtures have not helped, and he has managed just one victory, at home to Cardiff.

Leinster are banking on Jonathan Sexton returning to the out-half role for Saturday after the St Mary's man was a late withdrawal for the second time this season. Aside from Sexton, Schmidt desperately needs his established stars to raise their levels of performance and intensity after the dispiriting Edinburgh outing.

The Leinster team featured senior players such as Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Shane Horgan and Shane Jennings but their defence and physicality was way off the mark, with Edinburgh exploiting weak tackling time after time.

The departure of defence coach Kurt McQuilkin -- a key factor in their success over the past couple of seasons -- has been massively significant but adjusting to his departure does not explain some of the basic defensive errors witnessed last Friday. Tim Visser scored a try on the left touchline when he should have been bundled into touch and some players had their backs turned when Edinburgh took a quick tap penalty for David Blair's try.

Only Jamie Heaslip, who came off the bench, looked to be operating at peak performance, while Mike Ross, Luke Fitzgerald, Cian Healy and Rob Kearney could also be excused from the general malaise.

However, if the Leinster collective does not raise the bar significantly, they will be dismantled by a Munster side desperate to atone for recent defeats. Another Leinster defeat and the 'crisis' tag starts to gain credibility. In every respect, as Leamy says, Saturday's clash promises to be "savage".

Irish Independent

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