Sunday 25 June 2017

Leinster must rediscover their ruthless streak to end the season as champions

The unavailability of players like Sean O’Brien may begin to take a toll. SPORTSFILE
The unavailability of players like Sean O’Brien may begin to take a toll. SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

Every season on European final weekend, whether you performed well in the campaign or not, as a team, you always regret watching the decider instead of playing in it.

There is no doubt that Leinster could have beaten Saracens, and they would have anticipated a tougher game - certainly from the off - compared to Clermont.

As the season draws to a close, the pressure comes on to finish on a high and leave nothing behind. With Lions and Irish tour selection finalised, players know where they stand in the rankings.

Some of these selections will thrill and some will disappoint but for most, the season stretches that bit longer than the close of business at the Guinness PRO12 final.

There has been a lot of talk about the resurgence of Leinster compared to last season and how much the players want to win silverware. This type of talk aids personal motivation but adds pressure to an already stressed environment.

On any other week, Scarlets would not pose a threat in the RDS but with it being a knockout semi-final, it becomes a banana skin, with the pressure on the home team.

As bad as last season was, Leinster still made the final of the PRO12. That game itself will act as a watershed moment where they were coughing and spluttering their way through the campaign and ended up losing to a much more consistent and structured Connacht side.

This season has been different. Leinster have had a consistency they lacked since their Heineken Cup-winning days. Their home record has improved, as has their points tally. They are the leading try scorers in the PRO12 and have sat comfortably in the top part of the league all season.

But for all this success, they are struggling at the start of games and cough up points before they get into their stride.

They can get away with this during the day-to-day business in the middle of the season but is unacceptable near the end. Leinster need to find a ruthless arrogance before it's too late.

Even though there have been great performances, there has been some complacency setting in. Every winning team has to have a fear and a hunger in them, be it the fear of losing like last season, or the fear of not having the chance again.

The loss against Ulster should remind Leinster that the team that wants it more in a contact sport are always hard to stop. Their clear expectation in the first 20 minutes of that game showed that things might not suddenly turn around and highlighted the lack of experience of some players.

Leinster, with all their talent and resources, have lost their killer instinct and desperately need to find it tonight.

With all national selections, there will be elation, relief and disappointment but Leinster have a favourable representation on both summer tours.

As the season closes out, the unavailability of Rob Kearney, Jamie Heaslip, Sean Cronin, Sean O'Brien and possibly others begins to take a toll.

They are all proven winners and big-game players, and the idea of coping without them for the close of season is worrying.

Crucial

Leinster are going to have to look for big performances, across the board, from the off. Having Johnny Sexton is crucial but up front Rhys Ruddock and Tadhg Furlong's recent efforts will be the catalyst for victory.

Scarlets like to throw the ball around so they need to be starved of possession at the set-pieces. Leinster's set-pieces have reached both ends of the spectrum in the last few games but against Ulster, the scrum and lineout were particularly effective.

Devin Toner will need to put the Scarlets lineout under pressure while being steadfast on Leinster's ball.

The RDS has been a happy hunting ground for Leinster throughout this season and tonight, it needs to be turned into a war zone.

An all-Irish final is what the people want. Leinster need to prove they want it more.

Irish Independent

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