Wednesday 18 January 2017

Dempsey braced for 'crucial' period

Published 12/02/2016 | 02:30

Leinster's Mike Ross in action during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Mike Ross in action during training. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster are unbeaten in their last nine league games at the RDS but a defeat away to Dragons before a week off left a sour taste.

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The players returned to training last Sunday and backs coach Girvan Dempsey has admitted that the squad was noticeably refreshed following an intense block of games.

Leinster are entering another crucial stage of their season and without the majority of their front-line players who are on international duty, it is imperative that they get off to a positive start against Zebre this evening.

Dempsey is expecting plenty of the younger players to step up and take their chance over the coming weeks but he also knows the importance of the more experienced players who will be involved.

"I think it's a mix that you are going to see," Dempsey said of the Blues' selection policy over the coming weeks.

"I think the young guys have shown and stepped up but it's important to have a core of senior players around them to guide them through that learning experience.

"Its fine margins at the top. Just look at Ulster's match at the weekend. Its three minutes or two-and-a-half minutes on the clock and they get a penalty and Paddy Jackson kicks it and all of a sudden they are first in the table.

"They don't get that and they are back down to fifth I think. We realise that and know that this block of games is going to be massive.

"Yesterday in training guys were coming back with a bounce, a pep in the step. It was a 16-week block that we went though. Sixteen matches in a row, which is unprecedented. It was challenging.

"They freshened up last week and they are in the mix. So we trained yesterday and everyone was pretty invigorated and looking forward to it so we know the Zebre, Ospreys and Glasgow games ... so we've some big games coming up and we know it starts now.

"It was disappointing against Dragons. Conditions were very, very challenging. It was very tough to play in. I think we put ourselves under undue pressure. Some decision-making in the game was at times was what stood out," he added.

Zebre are also without several of their Italian internationals and although they do not have the same strength in depth as Leinster, Dempsey isn't taking them for granted as they look to push for a Champions Cup place of their own.

"They probably have a similar challenge to ourselves in terms of them having a number of players in the Italian national squad," Dempsey maintained. "You look at their results in the last while and they're on a bit of a high and in a vein of form.

"They've got four wins already in the league which is more than last year. They're ahead of Treviso so they're chasing that Champions Cup spot.

"They're playing with a bit of confidence They're a big side. They've got experience across the team in Bortolami in the second-row, Pratichetti in the centre, Burgess at nine. So they're got experience throughout.

"Even Muliaina who hasn't really been involved but he was involved the last time off the bench against Munster and Treviso away. They've got a core of experienced players there and a lot of young guys.

"They're playing with a bit of confidence at the moment which will be challenging."

Leinster may be expecting resistance, but this is an Italian test that they must pass with flying colours if they are to get their play-off hopes back on track.

Irish Independent

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