George Hook: Leinster's over-paid, under-performers need to take note
Published 18/01/2016 | 02:30
Alan Hansen once said you win nothing with kids. Saturday night is the exception to that rule, as Leinster, with a team full of rookies, rolled back the years to deliver their best display of the season.
The victory against Bath at the RDS was built on a foundation of youthful exuberance, where raw talent was given a rare opportunity to shine.
Garry Ringrose must now come under serious consideration to start for Ireland in the forthcoming Six Nations campaign. It's just a pity that we have not seen more of this supremely talented centre in his preferred position. His performance on Saturday only further underlined his star quality.
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The 21-year-old's poise and balance stood him apart and a wonderful ability to shift off either foot made him incredibly difficult to read. Ringrose's first instinct was to seek out space, but this was never at the expense of his more mundane duties. Defensively, Ringrose more than held his own.
The service to the Leinster backline was a huge improvement on what we have become accustomed to this season. The reason for this was obvious within the opening quarter, with the quick delivery and assured decision-making of Luke McGrath.
Quite how it has taken the former St Michael's scrum-half this long to break into the Leinster first team is a mystery. McGrath makes Isaac Boss look like an old-age pensioner. And on this kind of form, Eoin Reddan will struggle to get back into the starting XV.
Man of the match Ross Molony, 21, offered an assured performance at set-piece, but it was his ferocious work-rate and commitment in the loose that impressed most of all.
Molony, another star of last year's Ireland U-20 squad, offers a rugby intelligence that belies his tender years. And his ability to read the game and force his body around the pitch merely serves to compound the limitations of Devin Toner's game.
Josh van der Flier harried and hustled in another energetic performance and his exuberance, alongside the impressive Rhys Ruddock, provided the Leinster backs with clean ball.
If Leo Cullen is looking for a blueprint on which to base his tenure over the next two years, he might just have found it. And, for the over-paid, under-performers watching on from the side-lines, perhaps this might serve as a reminder that reputation and experience aren't the be-all and end-all where competitive sport is concerned.
Munster, as is their wont, produced a passionate display to recover some of the damage and embarrassment from last weekend's disaster in Paris. There was much to admire about the resilience of the players on Saturday afternoon, particularly on the back of what has been one of the worst periods in Munster rugby since the dawn professional era.
But even in victory, some glaring problems remain. Munster's inability to make the right decision in clinical areas continues to let them down. Saturday's win owed more to character and courage than clinical precision.
The games against Stade demonstrated the vital role of the No 8 and captain. Last week, Sergio Parisse was a colossus and on Saturday CJ Stander was a towering figure.
Those performances contrasted with the peripheral engagement of Jamie Heaslip recently.
The suggestion that Ireland should play Stander at number six in the Six Nations Championship, probably fits with Ireland's conservative gameplan, but would be a poor use of resources.
The problem is that Heaslip could not make an effective switch to the flank.
Thomond Park was not full but yet again the crowd was an ancillary weapon to the team. The supporters may be fewer but perhaps only the fair weather fans are missing.
The co-incidence of the arrival of Andy Farrell and a Munster resurgence was nothing but bad news for Anthony Foley. It is in the interest of those who now control the game that the Farrell appointment is seen as inspired, so watch out for more spin about the talents of the Englishman.
Ulster's hopes of reaching the quarter-final are all but over after they failed to get even a losing bonus point in Saracens. Last weekend's incredible comeback in Oyonnax, where Paddy Jackson, Ruan Pienaar and Nick Williams were sprung from the bench in the second half, only served to highlight Ulster's lack of strength in depth.
The contest threw up interesting conundrum. As everybody except Joe Schmidt knew before the Rugby World Cup, Jared Payne is a full-back and not a centre.
In his first appearance of the season for Ulster he was a strong attacking force and in that context is a better bet than the catch-and-kick game of Rob Kearney.
The majority of their first choice XV have played a lot of rugby over the last two months. Against Saracens at the Allianz Arena, Ulster looked tired.
On Friday night, Clermont owned the scrum and lineout against Ospreys but lost. That may indicate a diminishing value of the set-piece but with Rory Best's success rate at the lineout of under 50pc, he ensured that his team lost almost every vital attacking position.
Meanwhile, Munster had neither lineout nor scrum but won; so whither the set-piece?
One thing is certain, Ireland will struggle at the set-piece and the opposition my not be as forgiving as Clermont. Morale will be crucial. Ulster is a country, Munster is a tradition and Leinster is a club. The coming months may prove that international sportsmen need the freedom to think in order to thrive.Read more here: