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Kurt's case for defence

In the 78th minute of Leinster's recent Magners League victory over the Scarlets, Kurt McQuilkin must have afforded himself a wry smile as Andrew Conway stripped and prepared for action.

For the schoolboy it was a dream moment, his first run out for his home province. The kind of one-in-a-lifetime experience that sportsmen and women the world over cherish for the rest of their lives.

Moments after the final whistle, defence coach McQuilkin must have found a quiet space in his mind and reflected on the night just gone by: to the defensive breaches that saw Ken Owens cross for a frustrating 19th-minute try; on the moments of collective superiority that enabled Leinster to maintain their strong position in the league at this fragmented time of the year.

And, for a moment, he must have remembered his schoolboy debut.

In 1984, as the soundtrack for that year will testify, it was a time to be 'Footloose'. In July of that year, New Zealand prime minister Robert Muldoon called a snap election and was heavily defeated by opposition Labour leader David Lange while Ghostbusters mania swept the world.

Deniece Williams' 'Let's Hear It For The Boy' offered perhaps a somewhat fitting backing number for a 17-year-old King Country boy making his first forays into the professional game.

McQuilkin picks up the story: "Whenever you make your debut in any sport you have that feeling of dread and nerves because it's sink or swim time. Once you cross that whitewash you're on your own.

"Coming from King Country, as I did, we were always fighting for recognition because we didn't have the numbers that cities like Auckland had, so any representative honours were fought hard for.

"For me it was a bizarre feeling because I was selected as a 17-year-old to play alongside legends of the game like Sean Fitzpatrick and John Kirwan in a Barbarians XV against King Country.

"There were a few Waikato boys on that Barbarians side as well, so it wasn't as if I was on my own out there, but on the one hand I was playing against a lot of guys who I looked up to growing up and on the other they were trying to knock my block off!"

The memory stirred a smile. Twenty-six years gone by in the blink of an eye.

McQuilkin looks at the changes the game has made over the past few years in the southern hemisphere and wonders whether the game is improving.

A self-confessed purist, he believes that certain 'developments' in the Super 14 could damage the overall profile of the sport.

"In the first three weekends of the Super 14 I have been disappointed with the defence. Scorelines like 72-65 in the recent Lions v Chiefs game can't be good for rugby.


"Of course attacking rugby can be very pleasing on the eye, but we have to be careful that rugby doesn't turn into a hybrid sport. It was like tag rugby at times.

"We're in the entertainment industry and spectators want to see fast, attacking action, but it's got to stop at some point. Lots of people back in New Zealand, for example, can't relate to Super 14 anymore and prefer to go and see the cut and thrust of NPC where sides ruck, maul and just get stuck in."

With the backdrop of his ideology in mind, McQuilkin is relishing Sunday's clash: one of the great traditional battles with the spoils fought for the first time for Leinster in a new battlefield.

"It (Cardiff City Stadium) certainly looks an impressive arena and we're going into an environment where if we're not sharp they could thump us. They're a club with a famous history and a skilful side who can vary their style of play depending on the opposition, so we'll need to be sharp.

"The task at hand against a side of the calibre of Cardiff should ensure a positive performance from us and, confidence-wise, we're in a pretty good place.

"The returning internationals and those who were involved with the Ireland under-20's over the past few weeks have brought a freshness to training this week, and there's a great carrot for all of the players to play well and push for selection with big games coming up in the Magners League and the Heineken Cup."

The man charged with preventing opposition incursions believes that this time of the year enables sides either to flounder or prosper.

"The seeds of last year's Heineken Cup success were sown by our Magners League form in the Six Nations period last year and I've no doubt that the Grand Slam success gave the provinces a boost going into the final stages of the season," McQuilkin estimates.

"Form is key and the results will then look after themselves. So, from our perspective, we will try to go out and play better than we did against the Scarlets because it was by no means a perfect performance.

"Even though it's a fairly disjointed period in the calendar, we have to pull together and go out and play like we know that we can. It's an exciting task, not a daunting one. At this time of the year you just have to kick on."

Sunday afternoon will be another of the great, traditional showdowns between two clubs with big ambitions and proud histories. It will provide an opportunity to go back to the future.

A new start to an exciting new day.