Friday 30 September 2016

Victor Costello: Pro12 title is within Blues' grasp but next few weeks will make or break the season

Victor Costello

Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30

Fergus McFadden was yellow-carded away to the Dragons Photo: Sportsfile
Fergus McFadden was yellow-carded away to the Dragons Photo: Sportsfile

Rodney Parade in January on the eve of the Six Nations is probably the worst place any Leinster player will ever want to be. The reasons are plenty.

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If the game is a week or so before an international, the chances are that if you are a senior player allowed travel for your province, you won't expect to be included for Ireland the next week.

Logistically, Newport is a sparse town that serves no purpose for travelling fans, while the home supporters do not have the traditional respect for visiting teams, out-halves or referees.

Leinster's confidence has taken a continual beating this season and while there was a few weeks' reprieve, the squad would have fallen back down the black hole after the Wasps away game.

The one thing you can bank on during times like this is the value of the jersey to both the junior and senior players in the squad.

With social media, normal media, friends and family, there will be plenty of advice given to this squad with statistics and performances but for Leinster, there is still a campaign to be won.

The loss against Dragons was another away defeat, albeit with some good performances in poor conditions, a scenario that Leinster do not want to get used to.

With Six Nations distractions, dead rubber European matches and the constant threat of a player exodus, it has been a tough couple of months for the province.

I've said before that there should be a window in a season or preferably off-season, for players to decide their short and long-term futures.

Either this or a positive determination from the IRFU and Leinster to contract both established and up-and-coming players fairly. The distraction this causes in a squad is insurmountable and proves difficult for players and management to ignore with big games coming up.

With all this in mind and two international seasons in one with the World Cup and Six Nations, Leinster need to regroup during the break.

The players can take a breather with the spotlight off them for this weekend.

A week is a long time in sport and although those not involved in international duty will have a few days off, it would be a good time for what's left in the squad to hit the road for a bit of team bonding.

Joe Schmidt and his troops will have their own stresses and strains over the coming weeks and this is an ideal chance for Leo Cullen and his young squad to head off out of Dublin for a training camp.

Time spent now with the ambitious and hungry Leinster youth, who will be at the forefront of Leo's tenure over the next few years, will be critical, and also time spent away from the distractions of the Six Nations will give the squad a chance to focus on the goal for the rest of this season which is to win the Pro12.

Next week's game against Zebre will serve as a confidence booster for the remainder of the squad and will have Leinster back in the comfortable surroundings of the RDS.

Important

The following Sunday against Cardiff (away) will make or break their season and the ability to win the next game, while keeping an eye on the following more important game in Wales is the a general skill of any Pro12 coaching team.

Leinster need to spend this time refining their basics: lineout, scrums, mauls and rucks need to be reviewed and unfortunately discipline.

Fergus McFadden's yellow card last weekend makes Leinster's tally of yellow cards this season higher than the last three seasons. A lack of discipline in a team shows a lack of respect for your team-mates around you and a lack of faith in the team's defensive structure.

Leinster have the Pro12 within their grasp. Focusing on the past will let this season slip. They need to prove to themselves over the next few games that they have still the physical and mental resources to finish this season well.

Irish Independent

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