Sunday 24 September 2017

Comment: Leinster must learn lessons across the board from last year's disappointments

Leo Cullen hopes his men can kick-start their season against Dragons. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leo Cullen hopes his men can kick-start their season against Dragons. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

While watching the pre-season friendlies you got the feeling once again that the future is very bright in Leinster.

Year-in, year-out, the academy keep pushing out talent in huge numbers for the senior management to pick from and this year is no different.

A new season fills the dressing-room with an air of opportunity and hope, the unavailability of the senior players and the lengthy injury list leaves the pre-season doors open for those aspiring to don the blue jersey for the first time in competitive games.

The fall-out from the 2015 World Cup for Ireland was Leinster's gain and in two seasons many of the province's newcomers are now seasoned internationals.

The numbers and volume of the production line are impressive and there is no doubt that the ambition and hunger is evident from the youth.

Leinster can rotate and rest players throughout the day-to-day business of the Guinness PRO14 and can rack up points in the comfortable environment of the RDS.

However, what we have learned from the last two seasons is that Leinster have clearly lost their killer instinct.

The excitement of watching the younger players coming through is coupled with the relief of there being less reliance on the senior guys, but herein lies the need for the right management of players.

After a long summer of rugby there has been some great team and individual success that unfortunately masked two vital losses for Leinster last season - to Clermont in the Champions Cup and the Scarlets in the semi-final of the PRO12.

We always knew that selection would be key for these two games but there was more to it than that. By the time the two games came around there had been many distractions; Lions and Irish selection, players returning from injury and the standard competition for places at the business end of the season.

The Leinster management must review where they went wrong in selection.

There is no doubt that some players went in over-confident to the Scarlets game on the back of the victory in the RDS four weeks before.

It was only natural for the selected Lions players to be wary of injury before the tour began but management also needed to be wary of players' needs and the deficiency at that period of the season.

Against Clermont, Leinster were disjointed and still managed to perform. The French maintained the respect for Leinster but they backed off in the second half.

Kicks and drop-outs went short and there was miscommunication between the players, leading to them not consistently playing together in the blue jersey.

These small margins will always cost you in the play-off games and the lessons learned at the end of last season cannot be forgotten this year.

Leinster have great strength in depth and the most important other ingredient this season will be experience. Not only experience in caps or age, but winning experience.

The youthful squad have time on their hands and there's always another year to get to a final. Unfortunately that's not the same for the senior players.

Idle talk of not needing the Kearney brothers or making Jamie Heaslip redundant is very brave during an average PRO12 game but when it comes to winning mentality, Leinster need to blend their proven winners into the match-day squad.

These older players are vital to the trophy pilgrimage and its up to the youth to prove otherwise.

This PRO14 season has been spiced up with the introduction of the South African contingent and the Champions Cup falls a little more in favour for Leo Cullen's side than it did last season.

With another season under his belt Cullen and his management team can start demanding results rather than performances.

For the most part, the sizeable Leinster squad will be utilised more than ever but the end game will hopefully be a lot different.

Irish Independent

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