Saturday 1 October 2016

Strong finish to the season is essential to give supporters reasons for optimism

Victor Costello

Published 08/05/2015 | 02:30

Eoin Reddan goes through his stretching exercises during Leinster training
Eoin Reddan goes through his stretching exercises during Leinster training

There have been many times this season when games of seemingly little importance have mattered to a Leinster squad trying to reach the performance levels of past seasons.

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Over the years, the Treviso game, be it home or away, was a valuable points-gaining exercise to ensure top standing in the Pro12.

Leinster travelled to Treviso earlier this season with a depleted squad due to injuries and the November internationals and were lucky to come away with a draw.

This was the first warning sign that proved, as a squad, Leinster were not able to perform consistently with the disruption of injury and international duty.

Performing on the road in all competitions with an extended squad will test the resolve. It is particularly tough when it is against the league's minnows and there is high expectation of a result. When Leinster were at their best, games like these were the bread and butter for gaining silverware further on in the year.

In order to get back to that point, they need to revert to the basics against basic teams. The standards that are set in training should continue during games and the change of personnel should not mean any change in this standard.

Leo Cullen admitted during the week that some selection decisions made throughout the year were probably incorrect.

Cullen, with his years of service at the height of Leinster's success, has a dogged work ethic that would be infectious throughout a squad as a player and now as a coach. This statement alone can be taken as a sign of a greater role to be played by the former captain, now coach, in Leinster's future.

There is plenty of talk about what the next couple of games mean in terms of maintaining status in the Champions Cup next year and if this were not to happen, it would spell disaster for Leinster.

Jordi Murphy's comments during the week showed the urgency needed in performing for the last two games in order to stay in Europe's elite competition.

While he has one eye on the World Cup, his maturity shows that he needs his talents in the shop window after the World Cup to maintain his Irish and Lions hopes.

Standard seasons are long enough but World Cup seasons put a strain on players mentally and physically.

Pressure

When the season is operating at a high level, management can afford to rest players. When it is not and must-win games are on the horizon, it puts the pressure on.

A winning mentality made day-to-day life at Leinster easy in the past; losing this mindset has made life very difficult in Dublin 4 this season.

Due to Leinster's own success, there are 20 or so players likely to be involved in the Irish squad for the World Cup, with more being used for the warm-up games during the summer.

Those involved have the luxury of focusing on the international duty ahead and switching focus should be easy enough.

However, at the end-of-season debrief, there has to be a realisation of missed opportunities for other players making the Irish squad if Leinster had only performed better.

Unfortunately for Leinster, Joe Schmidt can now look to Ulster and Munster's performances in the play-offs of the Pro 12.

When Munster dominated Europe in the early noughties, it was obvious that their players revelled in playing for their province more than their country.

The Thomond Park faithful made sure that any dip in performances after a Six Nations campaign would not be tolerated and the result was that Munster were always involved in the latter stages of the Heineken Cup.

Who could blame them for this as winning is much more enjoyable. The same could be said for the Leinster players during the Declan Kidney era.

With Schmidt at the helm of the Irish team and the success he is bringing, the core of the Leinster team can enjoy winning ways with their country.

It is imperative that the Leinster management create an atmosphere for these players to bed back into after the World Cup. This onus goes to the players and staff left at home and the next six months are crucial on the training pitches.

Before the fans don their green jerseys they need to see a performance that matches the promises for next year, starting this week against a Treviso team that never caused trouble in past and certainly shouldn't in the future.

Irish Independent

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