Sunday 4 December 2016

Leinster must look to previous seasons and not previous months for confidence

Victor Costello

Published 03/04/2015 | 02:30

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during squad training
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during squad training

The dream for any coach is to have a fully fit squad of international standard players.

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The journey to achieving this goal this season has been the hardest so far in the professional era.

Over the years, coaches have been criticised for keeping faith in the same 15 or 23.

There was a time earlier in the season when some of the fringe players in Leinster had a real opportunity to push for World Cup squad selection.

Unfortunately, sliding out of the top four in the Pro12 during the Six Nations period meant an over reliance on the current international players and when Matt O'Connor emptied his bench last Friday night, this situation was copper-fastened.

When Bath sit down to analyse Leinster's performance against Glasgow, they will find weaknesses across the board.

Mike Ford, the Bath coach, is a very hard-working rugby fanatic. His initial skills were in defence in Rugby League but his knowledge of the attacking game in Rugby Union has expanded, helped by his time in the Ireland and English management.

He is probably the most qualified opposition coach to come up against Leinster, with his history in both the international and club game.

While there is no chance of Leinster performing as poorly against Bath as they have done during some of their recent Pro12 games, it is clear as day that after three or four phases of high-tempo rugby, their defence falls apart. In open play, Glasgow had a strategy of moving the ball immediately from the breakdown. Nikola Matawalu was exemplary at this.

Threat

His pace getting to the breakdown, being a running threat while there and the speed of moving the ball away from the breakdown kept Glasgow running and Leinster defending.

Unfortunately, after a couple of phases, there were gaping holes in the Leinster defence that Glasgow exploited. If Ford is to play a chaotic game, judging by last week's Leinster performance and in the first half, this could be a serious threat.

O'Connor's team are at their best when they control the pace of the game. This normally depends on the set pieces and the breakdown but in Glasgow's case, the deeper they pulled the ball back with their passing in attack, the more gaps they found.

When Leinster stand off an attack, they are on the back foot and not defending on their toes, which would make them more reactive.

Bath will try to put doubt in Leinster minds by attacking them from the off. The Irish players will be back and yes they will make a difference but we cannot deny the disappointment of the rest of the squad's performance in the Pro12.

If results and performances had gone right, Leinster would be in a strong position to compete in the finals of both competitions.

I have no doubt Leinster can win this weekend. Their top players, when on form can pull off individual performances to save any game but when in the knock-out rounds in Europe, a team has to dig deeper into the reserves.

These reserves can only be built through consistent performances in a season, which Leinster have certainly not done.

Bath will not roll over this weekend like England did at the Aviva Stadium last month. Their key players George Ford, Jonathan Joseph and the abrasive back-row Francois Louw, play an old school forward dominated game that will push the Leinster pack to its limits.

Fear

This week, for Leinster, the fear of failure will prevail; nothing focuses the mind more than a large English pack. The less time that the talented Ford has the ball, the better for Leinster.

O'Connor had to put up with some stick after last weekend's display, but the hand he was dealt was particularly cruel.

Not being allowed to pick from a full and injury free squad a week before the most important game in the season was detrimental to the preparation of both matches.

The Irish contingent will want to maintain their winning ways and Leinster are strong enough to come through this upheaval but the faith has to come from the previous seasons and not the previous few months.

Irish Independent

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