Monday 24 October 2016

Still plenty of work ahead but Leo's Baby Blues can set tone for whole campaign

Victor Costello

Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30

Cathal Marsh has a very effective balance of skill and composure
Cathal Marsh has a very effective balance of skill and composure

With all the hopes and expectations over the last few seasons, Leinster's results rarely matched those of the Heineken Cup-winning era. But, roll on another season, with new management and a fresh start, and the expectation remains the same.

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It would be hard not to get excited with some of Leinster's play last weekend against Cardiff in the RDS.

One can always find fault, particularly with new-season rustiness and the inexperience of youth, but Leinster had an attitude to their play that has not been seen for many seasons.

Cardiff have been well regarded for their defensive structure, but like all facets of play, a defensive structure only has a life span for a set number of phases.

Forget about the scoreline, the bombardment of Cardiff's defence by Jack Conan, Garry Ringrose and Ben Te'o was an immense showing of intensity by the Baby Blues.

Attitude is everything and those individual performances last week will lift the squad at this time of personnel deficit.

If you break down the game of rugby and make it even simpler than it is, power and pace trump everything. Ball skills, moves and game-plans come a close second, but second nevertheless. Leinster's ball-carrying ability had Cardiff on their knees at stages.

If you couple these attributes with a director like Cathal Marsh and groundhog Josh van der Flier, you are really in business.

Van der Flier is a player that typifies what has been missing in Irish rugby since the retirement of Keith Gleeson. While we have survived in the competitive back-row area, he is definitely a shoo-in for the future and he'll bring opportunities to play an even more expansive game. Cathal Marsh has a very effective balance of skill and composure, and with Johnny Sexton and Ian Madigan as mentors, it is imperative he gets adequate game-time now.

While over the last few weeks there have been disappointments with World Cup selection, there will be a lift in the Leinster squad with this performance.

Yes, there were faults and rustiness, but intent and eagerness won out on the day against an established Cardiff side. One can lament about the number of players Leinster that are missing compared to other provinces and, indeed, other squads in Europe, but there is a real chance of setting high standards before the return of World Cup players.

While some of the young guns impress during the off season, the competitive arena is always the main test. The Leinster academy, under John Fogarty and Girvan Dempsey, has done a fine job in keeping the player production line running.

There are many hurdles ahead for this Leinster team and plenty to work on from last weekend, but it was a pleasure to see them come back and win at the end. Furthermore, Leo Cullen's handling of the media before and after the game was at the other end of the spectrum to his predecessor.

When a spectator gains clarity from the thoughts and wishes of a coach through the media, one can be certain that there is also clarity is in the changing room. Losing at home is never an option and with no game for the next two weeks, it would have been hard to recover from.

The break will give the Leinster management time to bed in offensive and defensive structures. The RDS crowd last week were particularly vocal for this time of the season. The crowd will have many rugby options over the coming weeks but for Leinster it is very much about keeping the day job a success.

While Leinster are not in a transitional period, they are lacking big names and vital experience in the squad.

With experience comes baggage, and with youth comes naivety, but that can prove a great platform to work off.

Yes, Leinster have just one win out of two, but you're only as good as your last game!

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