Tuesday 26 September 2017

Focus must remain on vital tasks ahead, not atoning for previous poor displays

Luke McGrath in action during squad training
Luke McGrath in action during squad training

Victor Costello

Watching the first half of last week's game against Zebre, one could be forgiven for thinking that Leinster were picking up where they left off.

All of the talk in the media and promises of making up for recent under performances puts extra pressure on a team to perform out of the blocks.

It would be wrong to think that there are not certain doubts lingering in players' minds which are causing these lulls, but time is of the essence and stopping to think creates more hesitancy, which Leinster cannot afford at this time.

With Zebre the bottom of the league and Leinster the reigning champions, there was an assumption of at least a 30-point margin.

This doesn't always work out as if you are playing a team that is statistically inferior, not only are you starting the game in third gear instead of first but you are also playing against the clock and scoreboard. When the clock is ticking and the scoreboard isn't, the pressure comes on.

Zebre took chances and capitalised on mistakes made by the Leinster defence.

There is no doubt that to fast forward a few months, other teams would venomously exploit these kind of opportunities.

Leinster clawed their way back into the game, while giving up the first half to the Italians. Zebre came at Leinster the way the national side came at Ireland some weeks ago and found gaps that Matt O'Connor will need to address this evening.

Consistently

Leinster need to stay in the top four of the Pro12 consistently if they plan to succeed in either competition this season, and the next few games couldn't come at a better time.

Two away games in Wales and Glasgow to finish at home before Europe, works out ideally for a team that has lost its confidence.

Compartmentalising a season into many sections is what most coaches try to do. This season, injuries and international interruption have taken a bigger toll than normal on Leinster, so most of this adjustment and rotation of players has not taken place by choice and some results have suffered as a result of the disruption.

That being said, there are many teams that would envy the position Leinster are currently in.

The management need to get a structure in place where the games ahead are talked about as the priority and not the previous ones.

The focus on the next period is two-fold. First of all, winning is the priority. Second is building a selected squad over the next few games that only changes with the integration of those on international duty.

There are players that have carried Leinster to this point this season without the limelight of the international stage. Dominic Ryan, Jack Conan, Darragh Fanning, Luke McGrath and Noel Reid will not get the recognition they deserve at the end of the season but their contribution has been immense.

Their quality and consistency is going to be needed for the remainder but unfortunately the big games might be beyond their reach.

Their dogged professionalism should pay dividends come World Cup time and in the future.

The second half of last weekend's game came to life, with Luke Fitzgerald displaying his pace and skills. Ben Te'o is improving each game and timing once again will be crucial for his European selection.

Like the rest of the back line, sticking to the basics and avoiding unforced errors is what should be worked on over the next few games.

Experienced players think better on the pitch. Making an impact off the bench is better suited to the younger players - lack of experience lends itself to thinking less and acting more.

Looking ahead, focusing on silverware is critical to Leinster but Ospreys away will be a stern test as the Welsh side have similar personnel problems.

The squad have to believe from within. While there are many players still to return to the fold, the onus is on those playing the next few games to provide a platform for Leinster to perform in the play-offs of both competitions.

It being World Cup year, the benefit of this success will suit everyone.

Irish Independent

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