Sunday 4 December 2016

Victor Costello: Cullen must make forwards his coaching priority if Blues are to recover lost ground

Victor Costello

Published 27/11/2015 | 02:30

Jamie Heaslip wins possession in a lineout against Bath. Leo Cullen needs to put his coaching priority in the area he knows best, which is the forwards
Jamie Heaslip wins possession in a lineout against Bath. Leo Cullen needs to put his coaching priority in the area he knows best, which is the forwards

Leinster's performance last weekend against Bath from the outset was better than the low standard set the week before against Wasps.

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By the end of last weekend's Champions Cup games, many realised that Wasps were a better side than they were given credit for after they dismantled the mighty Toulon.

It would normally be a case of encouragement after seeing Wasps outperform the French but the negativity that surrounds Leinster at the moment would suggest there'll be a backlash in the next pool game in Toulon.

The criticism over the last two weeks unfortunately has been justified due to poor performances. Leo Cullen and his management team will be well used to the volatile relationship with the media, particularly after two poor losses but there are a few areas he needs to brush up on.

Cullen has the ability and credentials as an ex-player and winning captain to coach Leinster for a long time and yes he should be afforded the luxury of time to get it right, as many coaches before him were.

However, as I watched the media build-up to the Bath game last Saturday, I found he was in a discussion as to what happened the week before against Wasps right up to 24 hours before the Bath game.

Any dissection of the previous game should be finalised after that game and all energy focused on the next game from the Monday beforehand. This is where the Leinster management needs to control their media policy and not overcompensate with explanations

Secondly, apart from the scoreline, any punter worth their salt would have found the set-pieces last weekend painful. Forwards will always take pride in the set-pieces, particularly the scrums.

Bath's destruction of the scrum will drive a knife deep into the Leinster heart and the last lineout thrown to the opposition will have a similar reaction. For future opposition, they have shown a vulnerability in the set-pieces that must be a priority to fix.

Every hooker will have a banker ball in his pocket with the forward pack. This banker ball will not be effective for a back line move or offensive attack but it will be a safe lineout option that's guaranteed to keep possession from the opposition. This should have been utilised on the last Leinster lineout lost to Bath at the critical 79th minute.

Cullen needs to put his coaching priority in the area he knows well, which is the forward pack; stick to the basics and get the pack dominating again and the back line will look after itself.

The abundance of talent in the back line needs to be flooded with ball during a game to enable Johnny Sexton direct his troops.

A performance tonight is more important than the result, although the right performance will produce the right result.

There are strong arguments for the selection of Josh van der Flier, Luke McGrath and Garry Ringrose.

Reaction

These three players need to be selected not because of their performances early in the season, or as a reaction to the poor recent performances, they need to be selected for what they can bring to the side in the next block of European games. They are the future and are more than capable now.

Ulster were well beaten by a dominant Saracens side last weekend. Les Kiss has a strong pedigree as a defence coach.

Ulster have vulnerabilities in their set-pieces too. Their lineout barely functions ever since Johann Muller retired last season.

Leinster have more talent, mental strength and experience than most teams in both competitions.

Outside the expectation will be low, inside they need to stick to the knitting and get back to basics.

Any coach will tell you the difference between success and failure is a narrow line - it's up to them now to cross it.

Irish Independent

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