Friday 9 December 2016

Victor Costello: Finding the right balance between youth and experience is key to success

Victor Costello

Published 15/04/2016 | 02:30

Rob Kearney: making a timely return Photo: Sportsfile
Rob Kearney: making a timely return Photo: Sportsfile

When an unexpected weekend off appears in the calendar, it creates excitement with the rare options that don't include togging out for a pressurised rugby match.

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While anything out of the norm will break up the monotony of a long season and freshen up the minds for the end-of-season run in, there will always be a lingering sense of regret in the heads of the Leinster players knowing that the empty RDS and Aviva Stadium is a grim reminder of lost opportunities this year.

Players will not need this as a constant reminder as negative thoughts do not serve any purpose in professional sport but an adequate awareness of this period should be enough to refocus the minds on the opportunities that do lie ahead this season.

Leinster's future is bright, even though Leo Cullen's first season has been a baptism of fire. As a player he relished challenges and as a coach his review this summer will depend on the outcome of the Pro12 campaign. Nevertheless he has acquitted himself well and the future of Leinster is in safe hands.

The other three provinces would have been enthralled in the Connacht v Grenoble game at the weekend. Never before have Connacht had the attention they have now and it is fully deserved.

The loss late in the game was gut-wrenching but all of the three other provinces have been in that situation and it showed that Connacht's consistency in the Pro12 will not be not just a once-off.

Their brand of rugby is gripping rugby fans across the country and they are the envy of the other provinces. Any notions of Connacht being less of a force away from the Sportsground were dispelled in France.

It is important to remember that although Leinster have a relatively easy run-in, there is still a proud Connacht side lingering in the top of the table.

Rob Kearney's timely return will also please the Ireland coaches and while Cian Healy continues to gather up game time, there will be competition for places in a squad of 23 that have this league in their grasp.

With a week off to recover from the physical and mental exhaustion of this season, the Leinster players have a lot riding on the next few weeks. The international season will continue with places up for grabs for the South Africa trip and for those left at home, finishing up with a Pro12 title will exorcise the demons of this season and prove they are still capable of winning trophies.

Winning the Pro12 and finishing ahead of the other Irish provinces will give Leinster a greater chance of European glory next season.

This season the European group of death turned Leinster on its back, and yes, it is a good enough excuse looking back but let's not forget those days when Leinster would relish taking on Europe's finest both home and away.

As the business end of the season approaches, Leinster's squad - with notable absentees in Sean O'Brien and Marty Moore - will have a balance of young and hungry players that have emerged this season, coupled with the seasoned, experienced pros.

Pressure

Management will always revert to the default team as the pressure builds but competition for places will be rife and starting at home to Edinburgh will put those players picked in pole position.

Edinburgh are an average side who play consistently well at home but struggle on the road.

They are a group of players capable of an upset, but their coach Alan Solomons knows Leinster well over the years and has had little success against them.

The run-in over the next few weeks will be all about Leinster's strategy to show the belief in what they are doing as a group but selecting a match-day 23 that can blend youth with experience will prove it.

Irish Independent

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