Tuesday 6 December 2016

Leinster are not far from clicking but players must take on responsibility now

Victor Costello

Published 16/09/2016 | 02:30

Luke McGrath runs out as Leinster captain against Glasgow last weekend
Luke McGrath runs out as Leinster captain against Glasgow last weekend

Leinster should feel aggrieved by letting the lead against Glasgow last Saturday slip through their hands.

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When a team is on the front foot the way Leinster were in the first half, many facets of play fall into place as a result of the dominance.

As disappointing as it was to see the Scottish team run in the tries in the last quarter, there are a few questions I would ask on the trip home; are Glasgow the best team that Leinster can expect to face in the Pro12? And what was the reason for the dissipation of Leinster's structure in the second half?

I am not one for statistics but back in the golden years when Leinster were dominant in Europe, the final 20 or 30 minutes of a game was the period they won games as opposed to losing them.

The reasons for this were; superior fitness, unshakable confidence and belief in the personnel around them and a strong discipline in defence.

If you have a team on the ropes that is the time to drive it home. Currently the opposite is happening and players are finding themselves ahead in the scoreboard but may not have the belief or trust to keep their foot on the pedal.

This season's group of players, through inexperience and lack of silverware, possibly do not believe in themselves. This has happened before and it is happening again.

To a man, Leinster have the talent but there are crucial areas that need to be fixed. Set-pieces for example; to lose any lineout - albeit crooked or robbed - is criminal.

This area needs to be dominant and with both Leo Cullen (a lineout genius) and John Fogarty in-situ, time should be spent correcting this area once and for all.

Leinster have more ball carriers in their squad than any other side in the league. Mike McCarthy, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Dan Leavy, James Treacy and Jordi Murphy all had plenty of ball in hand last Saturday but there needs to be an urgency to find a line off the shoulder of the ball carrier.

Too many players are thinking about the next move and not the only move that matters; the current one.

A deeper look into the last 30 minutes would also question the fitness levels given that Leinster were asleep for Tommy Seymour's third try but sometimes pre-season training can take its toll on the early games with reward later in the campaign.

If you consider this time last year Leinster were shorn of their front liners due to international duty and by the end of the season they still ended up in the Pro12 final, it certainly augurs well for the same again this time around.

This season, the international players should be fresh and hungry for top level rugby.

Edinburgh away is always a game that stands out in the season. While the Scots are traditionally a strong side on paper, they always seem to be more vulnerable when not donning their international jersey.

Murrayfield provides little or no atmosphere when not at capacity and the games never reach the intensity the league deserves.

Leadership

For Leinster, the options in selection are growing. Players like Luke McGrath and his leadership qualities might not have been considered for the big games last year, but he has progressed well. The same goes for Ross Molony who plays beyond his years. Couple these young players with the more senior ones and it's clear Leinster can start to dominate once more.

Edinburgh play a predictable wide game at home and after they drag their opponents across and back the pitch a few times they have little else.

Leinster have a very mobile back-row and can effectively pick three open sides if needs be but playing the Scots at their own game is dangerous so Leinster need to start bedding in their preferred 15 for this season as soon as possible.

With the player resources and no distractions, Leinster need to add some arrogance and a swagger to their play. This belief can make Leinster dominate the mental game.

The last half an hour of the Glasgow game will give food for thought for the new coaching structure but players need to take responsibility and show they're capable of turning the game while on the run.

Irish Independent

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