Sunday 4 December 2016

Victor Costello: Harsh lessons learned, now Leinster must rescue their European campaign

Victor Costello

Published 20/11/2015 | 02:30

Leinster’s Cathal Marsh, left, and Jack Conan at training before the latter’s foot injury
Leinster’s Cathal Marsh, left, and Jack Conan at training before the latter’s foot injury

Losing at home is always hard to take. Losing the way Leinster did last Sunday will be hard for the team and coaching staff to swallow.

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Unfortunately, like all poor performances, they have to be addressed and then forgotten. Last Monday's video session would have put the players back into game periods that they would have preferred to have forgotten.

Statistically, this crop of players has been catapulted back to the dark days of the late-1990s scorelines and have already been written off for the remainder of the season.

This will be an environment far from what they are used to and a sharp lesson learned; that unless the core business of rugby success on the pitch is successful, all the ancillaries of social media and corporate sponsorship extras are sidelined.

Two weeks ago, Leinster had survived a World Cup-induced spell of player unavailability and maintained a perfect home record. Scarlets came to town and Leinster overcame their hardest test to date at the RDS.

Unfortunately, at this time, this is where they went wrong. Tradition has it that the best team available will line out the week before European rugby.

This is no slight on the day-to-day business of the Pro12 but psychologically it is important that the increase in intensity is felt not only on the training pitch but also in selection the week before the Cup starts.

There has been a lot of talk about the back-row selection. Modern rugby will dictate that there is a need for a genuine seven. Sean O'Brien, being Leinster's main ball carrier, is targeted by oppositions and gets a severe bashing every game.

Asking him to also win ball on the ground is next to impossible. Dan Leavy and Josh van der Flier are next in line and should fight it out for the seven spot.

Having O'Brien hitting the ball at pace as a number six on second or third-phase play will be more effective, rather than having him lined up when defences are stronger off first-phase ball.

Leinster's reaction will set the tone for the season. Bath are a formidable side with their backline the best in the Premiership. Jonathan Joseph and Kyle Eastmond made the controversial Sam Burgess struggle for his place and Anthony Watson on the wing could sidestep you in a telephone box.

The pack are less glamorous and will have to be targeted by Leinster to starve Bath of possession.

Losing is not an option and Saturday's game will decide if Leinster are in transition. Even so, thoughts on selection for this game should include Garry Ringrose and Luke McGrath.

Apart from earning their chances to play in Europe, they are the players that will flourish in this environment and embed themselves in the team for the future. These are testing times for the Leinster management, so hard decisions have to be made.

Telling

There have been times in the past when none of the crowd or scribes have given Leinster a chance. Unfortunately this week, through last week's performance, recent opinions have been justified.

What goes on in the dressing room an hour before kick-off can have a telling impact on the result of the game.

Leo Cullen has roused his players before in difficult circumstances and this week's build-up should be interesting.

However, the players will know what is expected from them and they are the only ones that can put it right on the pitch. If not, another season will pass and leave some to wonder how many seasons they have left.

Irish Independent

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