Saturday 25 March 2017

Victor Costello: Another golden age of talented players bodes well for the future

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen

Victor Costello

Winning games is always the most important part of any team's mantra.

There are many theories of how to maintain a winning structure - be it a good pre-season, consistency in team selection or just pure luck.

In Leinster's case, it has been all of the above. The hardship of the last few seasons and the player drain to the Irish squad has now paid off with the emergence of players who were last year part of a larger provincial squad and are now among the international contingent.

The win against the All Blacks in Chicago provided much excitement in the country - and rightly so. But for the Irish management it has given them a freedom to select different combinations of players through the autumn series.

The same goes for the Leinster management. With their early-season success, Leo Cullen and his back-room staff can concentrate on the finer details that coaches normally ignore when they are in panic mode.

When the two weeks off comes around, it throws up opportunity to rest and regroup. Players will immediately look to jet off; not to undo all that hard work but to refresh body and mind. With a hectic schedule for international and provincial players, when you get a chance to get away, you take it.

Meanwhile back in the Leinster camp, with the players away - apart from the injured ones who are rehabbing - the management can go through the last few weeks in detail and isolate areas to improve.

They will have to be honest and ruthless with areas they need to improve in and, although the fitness coaches will want time with the players in this period, it is vital that skills and structure are implemented in training.

While the team has been successful so far this season, there are habits still at large picked up from the previous seasons. Discipline is an area that has improved but needs further improvement. It would be interesting to see the difference in amount of yellow cards picked up this season and last compared to the seasons with Heineken Cup success.

Defensive structure has improved but again, they still need to regain a ruthlessness and not give the opposition a chance to get into the game.

And finally, match fitness. Fringe players will have game time during this period but not enforced through injury. This is an opportunity to show their quality before the games get tighter so that, if they are needed, they will have been proven. Adam Byrne, Ross Byrne and Tom Daly are prime examples.

Strong

Arguably, Leinster currently have at least two world-class players in every position, and with either XV on the pitch, you can be guaranteed a strong bench to make an impact if needed.

It won't always be this good with personnel, so now is the time to make hay. In years to come, management will look back at this period as another golden age as the younger players make their mark on Irish rugby.

Leinster now have the luxury of planning ahead; the question is how much are they going to gamble on youth? With the Ireland representatives due back in a few weeks, the way things are currently they will add to the winning mentality. The competition for places will heat up and each player will recognise that when given the jersey.

Leo Cullen can plan ahead and comfortably pick squads that suit the opposition for the next couple of months. This will give them the ability to rest players and adhere if necessary to the player management guidelines.

At this stage a lot has happened since Leinster's last game against Zebre. There will be an eagerness to get back on the pitch - and next Friday against Scarlets will be a tough place to play. It is rarely full, which creates no atmosphere.

Leinster will have to be professionally blinkered to the international roller coaster at home, because winning your away games in the PRO12 firmly puts you back in the spotlight come the end of the season.

Irish Independent

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