Monday 24 July 2017

Resting Henshaw for Connacht clash leaves void in Leinster's physical game

Leinster captain Isa Nacewa will have his leadership skills tested to the full over the next few weeks. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leinster captain Isa Nacewa will have his leadership skills tested to the full over the next few weeks. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

Ross Byrne's crucial drop goal against the Ospreys proved Leinster have an ability to keep winning.

Whether it's storming to victory over Wasps last Saturday week or an ugly win over Ospreys last weekend, every triumph is still vital at this time of the season.

The importance of this drop goal was two-fold, showing the confidence Byrne had to execute it in what could have been a scoring position out the back line. And also proof of the players' ability to leave the play book behind when necessary.

This freedom Leinster possess at the moment has powered them to the number one spot in the Guinness PRO12.

Sean Cronin's man of the match award during the Ospreys game couldn't have come at a better time and his impact in the upcoming European Champions Cup semi-finals will be crucial to success. For Ireland he has been used both as a starter and as an impact sub but for Leinster his barnstorming power is needed for the full 80 minutes. He never fails to impress and last Saturday's display after an injury might see him on a Lions tour yet.

The first 20 minutes of the game away in Swansea reminded fans of Leinster at their worst this season. Isa Nacewa, the backbone of the team and captain, struggled with high ball and looked out of sorts for the first time.

This year we have seen many young breakthrough players who have thrived with more experienced guys around them.

So when the likes of Nacewa or other seasoned pros falter, it impacts the younger players during a high-pressure period. Thankfully, in true professional manner, Nacewa pulled it back and gained more control.

Leinster now sit pretty on the top of the table, making them the team to beat.

Similarly, when Leinster demolish Wasps in the European Champions Cup other teams take notice and will be doing their homework this week.

Ospreys tried to play rugby in the first 20 minutes then crumbled as did a plethora of sides who came to the RDS and rolled over during the Six Nations period.

However, Montpellier and Munster away didn't. And Connacht and Clermont away won't either. Leinster need to react to this challenge in the coming play-off games by imposing their game-plan and themselves on the opposition.

The prospect of Robbie Henshaw being rested this weekend against Connacht will leave a void in Leinster's physical game. Henshaw has thrived with Leinster and his work rate and power game have been second to none.

First-phase attack or defence will always be calculated and structured, and Leinster have the capability of going around and through the opposition.

Recently, however, as the phases rack up, they've been caught short.

If opposition teams can maintain possession Leinster fall into structural decay. This is not a lack of fitness or power but a lack of awareness which comes with communication and experience.

An attacking Connacht and Clermont will expose this so this game away to the PRO12 champions could not come at a better time.

Connacht will have their 'A' game for Leinster's arrival tomorrow. The hard ground at this time of the year in the Sportsground will suit both sides and with Leinster reshuffling their line-up, players will put their hands up for European selection.

Pat Lam's success at Connacht needs no explanation and his dedication to the end of this season will be sustained. Leo Cullen in his second season can learn a lot from his counterpart this weekend. Both had a big impact on their club and province but as Lam's career continues, Cullen's has just begun.

Leinster will play a Connacht side galvanised by their underdog mentality and pride in the jersey, expertly drilled by their coach to play to their strengths and improve their weaknesses.

Next up is a mercenary side in Clermont who are past their best and coached by an equally opportunistic coach in Jono Gibbes.

Local derbies between the provinces have and always will be the best preparation for European rugby.

Irish Independent

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