Tuesday 6 December 2016

Victor Costello: Connacht aren't the side they were last season and Blues must take advantage

Victor Costello

Published 28/10/2016 | 02:30

James Tracy: Picked for Ireland this week Picture: Sportsfile
James Tracy: Picked for Ireland this week Picture: Sportsfile

Early kick-offs on a Sunday in France is almost as bad as it gets but Leinster are top of the pool and although they lost last weekend, the ability to get the losing bonus says a lot about the desire and intelligence of the squad.

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The first-half physical encounter would have taken its toll on both teams but Leinster were more energised in the second half.

On their flight home, there would have been a sense of relief but also a realisation that the first half was error-strewn, tactically inept and questions would be hanging over the substitutions of both Sean O'Brien and Johnny Sexton.

Professional athletes spend their time during match weeks preparing themselves, with a lot of emphasis on the rest and recovery as well as the mental and physical preparation for the next game.

Last Sunday the heavy pitch slowly drained the players' energy and Montpellier dragged Leinster into a dogged battle up front which ironically in the end tired the home team first before the visitors.

Leinster have been used to playing the patient game over the past few weeks, with a new-found confidence in what they are doing in attack and defence.

In the first half, Leinster were containing the brutish South African onslaught and managed to score first.

With the physical battle in full flight the question was which team was going to break first. Unfortunately Leinster coughed up possession and allowed Montpellier to break down the right wing and score.

Ideally when in France you want to avoid the stranglehold of the home side's pack and when their forwards are made up of South Africans, it is pretty clear they are going to try and beat you up front before they try to move the ball wide.

Therefore keep the ball away from them and try and pin them in the corners.

The management have a responsibility to pick players that are 100pc.

If not, it does not do them or the team any favours.

There has been speculation that taking Sexton and O'Brien off was a call from the Irish management.

There will always be a hierarchy in professional sport and respect will be always given to the priorities in the green jersey but sometimes provincial coaches need to make calls that are for the benefit of their provincial team and players.

Any doubt over the fitness of a player like Sexton is adversely going to effect the team before kick-off and managing this restrictive environment is part of a coach's remit.

Hindsight is wonderful but I would think if last weekend's game were to be played again, selection would be different, and there is no doubt the return fixture in the RDS should hold no fear for Leo Cullen's side.

Tomorrow's clash against Connacht will give Leinster an ideal chance to see how far they have come since the Pro12 final in Edinburgh.

Every inter-pro is effectively a grudge match and Leinster will want to keep a dominance over the home provinces, and there are Ireland places at stake for both sides, which always provides an exciting sub-plot.

Benefit

A Leinster win will be expected but for the fans, apart from a victory, the benefit of seeing the likes of Dan Leavy's progress and indeed James Tracy and others is worth the admission money alone.

Connacht are not the side they were last year and are struggling to get back to consistent winning ways.

Leinster have a belief back in themselves and will want to prove that at the RDS tomorrow evening. They can definitely take a lot from last weekend.

It was a tough week for Irish rugby as a whole and to come out top of your group is a testament to the resolve of all of the squads.

Leinster have created a squad that others would be enviable of, and not everyone can start in the first-choice XV.

The management will tell you this is a good problem to have but they will need to address this problem within the province and going forward, make sure that there are no more outside influences.

Irish Independent

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