Thursday 8 December 2016

Leinster must take the positives from Toulon defeat and finish season strongly

Victor Costello

Published 24/04/2015 | 02:30

Sean Cronin has to be getting close to first choice for Ireland
Sean Cronin has to be getting close to first choice for Ireland

Leinster's performance last weekend was the one that everyone involved had been waiting for all season.

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All of the familiar attributes that we have enjoyed for the last few seasons were evident. Some familiar sights even got better with age.

Jamie Heaslip's leadership, player and referee management throughout the week, and including the match, will put him in line to be the next Lions captain.

Matt O'Connor, who has been under pressure, while not unfairly due to the nature of the game, will live to fight another season.

Unfortunately for Leinster, saving the best performance for last will not help them gain silverware this season but will restore pride in the jersey.

Due to the hard work of all in this group of players, Leinster will remain a European heavyweight in this competition.

Like every big performance in a season, when the dust settles Leinster will have to review the fact that it took until the end of the season to produce it.

They can take some solace from the fact that even after a sloppy campaign, they managed to compete against the current Champions Cup holders and made them dig deep for their win.

The Leinster team that we currently know with the success they have achieved would not just be content with living with Toulon and in the last five minutes of the second half of injury-time, they showed a dogged ruthlessness that resulted in Sean O'Brien's try.

REJUVENATION

It's likely that Joe Schmidt and Ireland will benefit from this long-awaited Leinster rejuvenation and, like every other loss this season, another game awaits on the horizon.

Pride and performance will amount to nothing without a comprehensive performance and win against Ulster.

It's obvious that the Pro12 finals are out of Leinster's grasp but proving to all that they are still the dominant province in Ireland is crucial to next season's confidence, as a team and individuals' World Cup selection hopes.

There are always plenty of dissections of games and last weekend's game will live long in the memory of the analysts.

Toulon were never going to be the giant European force that people expected to crush Leinster and the abnormal underdog tag suited them temporarily.

Their urgency in defence put Toulon under pressure off the first phase, and the Jack Charlton idea of putting the ball in the air was a good ploy to frustrate a team that was keen to get into second gear while not being allowed to get out of first.

Leinster matched Toulon physically, an area the French team expected to dominate. Every time Luke Fitzgerald got the ball, he put Toulon on the back foot defensively; the same for Ben Te'o.

The Leinster pack performed beyond European standard. Sean Cronin has to be getting close to first choice for Ireland and this evening will give him an opportunity to prove that against Rory Best.

The scrums and lineouts were solid and individually, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O'Brien and Jordi Murphy are at a level to compete with the best in the world.

A working back-row that complements each other will be hard to break up come World Cup time.

With the World Cup looming, it doesn't look like Matt O'Connor will get an easy ride next season either.

FRUSTRATION

This season's injury list will have him prepared for a lack of player availability next season, which is a frustration he should vent in the media consistently to back his cause in continuing as Leinster's head coach.

The World Cup, apart from the spectacle, is a world rugby trade show for both international players and coaches.

Both can stand or fall depending on performances during the campaign and any thought of rocking the boat in Leinster between now and then would just be reactive.

Through a season of highs and lows in Leinster, both players and supporters have lived through turbulent times.

Last weekend's game proved there is a hunger and a need for success in the province.

Leinster need to prove that with a consistency for the rest of this season.

They can definitely correct the errors made throughout and getting this right might just prove that this current season isn't over yet!

Irish Independent

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