Tuesday 25 April 2017

Pressure is on Northampton as Leinster arrive in great shape

It looks likely that Leinster's Joey Carbery will feature against Northampton tonight, after he was taken off early against the Dragons. Photo: INPHO
It looks likely that Leinster's Joey Carbery will feature against Northampton tonight, after he was taken off early against the Dragons. Photo: INPHO

Victor Costello

The victory against the Dragons last Saturday showed how far the Leinster squad has come in the last year.

Midway through the second half it was hard to decide if were Leinster that good or were Dragons that poor?

Fundamentally, it was probably a bit of both but there is no doubt that the conversion from squad players to household names has suited a lot of the younger members of the squad and although a confident swagger is somewhat dangerous in modern-day rugby, it is better to have one than not.

There is plenty of advice that you try and give a newly-capped player coming through to the senior squad, like 'take responsibility for the jersey', 'own the jersey', 'respect the jersey', 'fight to maintain the jersey' etc and it is hard not to realise all of this group of players have taken the advice on board.

Last weekend, there were players fighting for coveted places in the Champions Cup squad for the next few weeks and judging by their performances, there are a few players that will be hard to leave off.

With the Dragons out of the game after half an hour, Leo Cullen had the luxury and confidence to take Joey Carbery off after the half-time break.

While this was a clear indication of his intention to start Carbery against Northampton tonight, it also gave Ross Byrne, his replacement, more game time.

Both out-halves have different styles. Joey Carbery uses his fleet of foot and acceleration to penetrate through gaps and avoid hits, while Ross Byrne can relish the physicality of the game.

Pushing

The problem of keeping both in Leinster is a discussion for down the road.

In the meantime, Dan Leavy and James Tracy have to be pushing close for a start. Noel Reid and Rory O'Loughlin continue to make inroads with O'Loughlin's performance really standing out.

Whatever way you look at it, over the past few weeks at international level we have finally realised that the bench wins games.

Leinster can field a bench tonight that could be full of internationals. I cannot recall that ever happening for any province in the history of European rugby.

The confidence from Leinster's early part of the season has been increased by individuals' Irish success. Luke McGrath's dominant leadership style gives the forwards knowledge of what play he is creating and when he found himself in space last week, he had the maturity and patience to look for the support without dragging an unnecessary extra yard or two.

There is an expectation between the players that nobody wants to die with the ball. Therefore the offload or the recycle are the current options rather than pushing the pass and knocking the ball forward.

This guarantees the maintenance of the ball and, in turn, starves the opposition of possession. With the amount of ball carriers in either Leinster team, this can be both exciting and extremely effective.

Amongst the bonus-point win, Leinster had a notable dip in form in the second half which can be excused due to the personnel change for the greater good.

What can't be excused were the wayward lineouts, not typical of this forward pack but still unacceptable. If the same were to happen tonight, the outcome won't be as forgiving.

Leinster will need to prove tonight that the improvement in their penalty count and discipline is not temporary. The pressure is on the Northampton team and coaches at home and due to their recent performances. They will be keen to gain from their home advantage to kick off these back-to-back games.

They will try to attack the Leinster pack and bully Carbery at out-half. But for all the youth, this is a mature side.

The coaching staff will have nothing but fond memories from almost 20 years of playing Northampton. With the right performance this evening, I don't expect that history to change.

Irish Independent

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