Saturday 25 February 2017

McQuilkin will tighten defence after last-season's unacceptable slip-ups

Victor Costello

Leinster have been boosted by the return of Rhys Ruddock
Leinster have been boosted by the return of Rhys Ruddock

It's back to business for Leinster this weekend. It would be hard for players not to be distracted by the World Cup and the momentum of support building for the Irish team.

Momentum is hugely important to create consistency and with Leinster gaining their first win of the season, the players will be keen to keep that consistency going.

Any player will tell you that, whether it's through injury or time off, there will always be an itch to get back on the pitch and play.

So, effectively, while the break was utilised, the players will still have felt redundant over the past two weeks.

Therein lays the volatility and vulnerability of a professional rugby player.

Part of the skill of a top coach is to have a 'you're only as good as your next game' attitude, while being able to predict the medium-term future.

Unorthodox as it is having a lack of top players available at this time of year, the Leinster management would have prepared well for this time, hence the return of Isa Nacewa and the extension of Gordon D'Arcy's contract.

For Leo Cullen and his coaches, winning the game is always first priority. Once a couple of wins are secured, the Leinster management have an ideal opportunity to stamp their own style on the Leinster game-plan.

When coaches come under pressure for results, game-plans go out the window and it seeps down to the dressing-room.

A win this weekend will give the management time to bed in a style of play that they feel will have Leinster able to compete this season.

There is also a theory that, in the modern game, defence wins games.

It was clear last year that Leinster's defence slipped below acceptable standards. Just after Leinster scored in games last term, they were at their most vulnerable and invariably let in soft tries.

Kurt McQuilkin's return will help in this regard - his passion and knowledge will become apparent over the next few games.

Dragons are an old enemy for Leinster. In 2001, Leinster played them three times in a row - once away in the Heineken Cup and twice at home in the Celtic League and Heineken Cup respectively.

The Dragons set a high physical standard against a Leinster side under Matt Williams.

Only for some good play by full-back Peter McKenna, Leinster would not have had the momentum to finally follow on and win the inaugural Celtic League final.

The following two games were played at Donnybrook and Lansdowne Road, and the results were favourable.

But the Dragons' performances never wavered, regardless of the venue, and I expect it to be the same on tomorrow.

Leinster, currently injury free, and with the bonus of Rhys Ruddock's return, have a tough, but manageable task against the Dragons.

Ruddock will be crucial to Leinster's success until he is snapped up for Ireland again.

To the RDS faithful, I would say that the support put in now will pay dividends throughout the season, after the World Cup is long forgotten.

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