Thursday 29 September 2016

Victor Costello: Leo must pick his best team and stick with it if Blues are to surge to silverware

Victor Costello

Published 22/04/2016 | 02:30

Luke Fitzgerald will flourish for province and country if he can stay injury-free Photo: Sportsfile
Luke Fitzgerald will flourish for province and country if he can stay injury-free Photo: Sportsfile

When Leinster's team selection was announced last week, there were a few deep breaths taken around the province.

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The paying supporter has had to endure the player drought from the international scene and although there have been some great performances, the punter reckons that it's now time to see the 'big' names back in the blue shirts to finish this job for the season.

That would be the normal train of 'little' thought but any seasoned professional player or media member will always expect the unexpected when it comes to team announcements.

It is normally the Ireland selection that causes more murmurs and complaints but the tone and explanation from Leo Cullen beforehand proved that the Leinster squad is being built for the future while also giving the current Pro12 ranking and opportunity enough respect.

On top of this, add in the return of Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald and what would ensue was a sloppy, complacent 30 minutes with flashes of structural play.

Playing at home gives every team a sense of confidence but with confidence comes complacency. Edinburgh came to town to slow down Leinster at the breakdown, and if any team would have a traditional reputation of doing this, it would be the Scots.

This would be a negative style of play from Edinburgh but when they got their chances from Leinster's mistakes, they took them. Leinster's errors came from the pushed passes or pushed moves that one would not necessarily make in a game of bigger stature and therein lies the complacency.

The Leinster defence has been receiving plaudits all year and if holes were to appear, it would be less likely to happen at home at this stage of the season.

Edinburgh carved through the defence on occasion and the difficulty now is that they have shown a penetrable weakness in what was a strong, proud structure that Ulster will review and seek to expose in the Kingspan Stadium next Saturday.

Conversely, Fitzgerald's performance in attack created a problem for the Edinburgh players. If he can stay injury free and gain consistency he will flourish for both club and country.

Ben Te'o's continued professionalism in his standard of performance has set a bar for those around him. Noel Reid's development beside him will add to the quality of Leinster's future and last week's forward pack selection will keep the likes of Ross Molony and Mick Kearney close to the starting XV.

Being able to win ugly is testament to the individuals but winning consistently is testament to the team.

Moving forward to the next group of games, Cullen and his management have wisely built a squad of players with enough experience to win the Pro12.

With an away game to Ulster and a possible meeting of either Ulster, Connacht or Glasgow at home for a semi-final, it's time to get some consistency in selection.

Leinster need to pick their best XV to see the season out. With the dry ground and play-off games ahead, the fans need to play their part too.

Pressure

A win away against Ulster will set the tone for the play-offs as the home team in the Kingspan Stadium will feel the pressure. With Leinster beginning to hone their offloading game with Josh van der Flier as the link-man, they will need to raise the tempo for the rest of this season.

Despite some criticism, Leinster are still top of the table in a league where their provincial colleagues battle for European qualification. For their confidence levels next season, silverware is what counts.

Competition for places will ensure that the training ground performances are at a high standard and it's up to those who are selected to keep that standard come match day.

Irish Independent

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