Wednesday 20 September 2017

Victor Costello: Overseas stars must not let focus slip during Six Nations

Leinster's Dave Kearney is tackled by Dragons duo Dorian Jones and Nic Cudd
Leinster's Dave Kearney is tackled by Dragons duo Dorian Jones and Nic Cudd

Victor Costello

Losing at home is always hard to take. Last Sunday's loss somewhat slipped under the radar for Leinster - the media criticism will be held for another date due to the weekend that was in it.

The team will have to focus on the positives and leave the statistics of home defeats and league tables to others.

Players walking off the pitch last Sunday will have had a burning desire to get into the next game to put it right.

Monday morning meetings generally serve the purpose for addressing the deficiencies, accentuating the positives and wiping the slate clean for the next game. Overall, one could call it a rugby confessional.

Leinster know that playing a match on a Sunday after an international can cause a team to be at their most vulnerable.

The visiting side are often more focused and prepared. The reason for this is that the Dragons would have left Wales on Saturday lunchtime, having been together preparing in Dublin right up to kick-off.

Unfortunately for the home team, they sit in their comfort zone enjoying the Six nations, wander down the road on the Sunday and expect the loyal RDS fans to lift them.

Leinster are a very professional outfit, their facilities are probably the best in the world but sometimes during the season, no matter what you do on the field, you just can't nail a game down.

This was that game for Leinster. Newport have been a dogged team to beat since Leinster had them three games in a row back in 2001 and they weren't going to let this opportunity pass them by.

Errors

For Leinster, the goals during this period remain the same: cut out the unforced errors, maintain discipline and improve the set-pieces.

While there are many hours spent working out the next opposition through video footage of their recent games, it would be advisable for one of the Leinster management to lock themselves in a room and analyse their own performances over the last while, with the view of finding where other teams find them vulnerable.

This would show up moments of teams contesting Leinster's lineout ball and the rolling maul off lineouts which Wasps did twice.

Leinster's reaction to opposition's sin-binning is sub-standard. They should capitalise on these 10 minutes and the fact that they have not done so in many situations during the season, shows that the level of thinking on the pitch is not enough.

Leinster have one of the most potent backlines in Europe. Every team will try and stop them getting the ball, be it legally or illegally.

Leinster's attacking game has never been more vulnerable; correcting this immediately is critical at this time.

There are three strands of players available to the coaching staff at international time.

Firstly, the imported players like Kane Douglas, Ben Te'o, Zane Kirchner and Jimmy Gopperth.

There is an onus on these players to be the backbone of resilience for Leinster. They have no international ambitions and their focus should have no distractions.

Their professionalism should cope with the changing team sheets and normal disruption and their performance and leadership should not drop.

Secondly, there's the academy and fringe players like Luke McGrath, who once again excelled last weekend.

Not only can they showcase their skills but they are likely to be unknown to the opposition, which should create space for their ability. These players need to relish the next few games and the opportunity given to them.

Finally, the international fringe players, which makes up the rest of last week's team. These players are particularly vulnerable, as they can be called out of a game or preparation for a game at any stage.

Maintaining focus is hard during this period but the reliance at this time should be on the imported and academy players, as these two groups have the most to prove and ultimately their role is all about this time when the squad is depleted.

Positives

There were positives from last weekend. Te'o will improve with each game and game-time for him is hugely important. It's a big man's game now and he will be needed for Europe.

Luke Fitzgerald showed great spark last weekend and the same will be needed from him.

Zebre will not provide much opposition this evening. What this game will do is give Leinster some confidence going into their next game against Ospreys.

It will also encourage the RDS faithful that Leinster are still in the hunt for the Pro12.

The Ospreys clash will be a crunch game for Leinster to prove they are European contenders.

If performance by then is not up to standard, then the rest of the season might end up being a scramble.

Irish Independent

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