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Schmidt calls for massive attack

THE simple facts are thus: Ulster have played eight and lost eight to Leinster in Dublin since the start of the Magners League, formerly known as the Celtic League, in the season 2001-2002. It is a record that requires straightening by Ulster; continuity by Leinster.



This is the reality for two clubs still in the hunt for a home semi-final, the Northern province, in second, holding a three-point lead over Leinster in fourth. At the start of the season, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt had to contend with the loss of Michael Cheika’s defence guru Kurt McQuilkin. It was seen as a possible Achilles’ heel in their body of work.

WEAKNESSES

In the professional game, all, or most, weaknesses will be quickly identified and exposed. Leinster were filleted for three losses in their first four league matches. Even more worryingly, they coughed up nine tries in those four matches, a bonus-point quartet to Edinburgh in the fourth match. It seemed the Leinster defence were unravelling rather than tightening up.

“If you get a reputation as an early riser, everyone thinks you are up early. If you miss a few tackles, you become a target for other teams,” said Schmidt.

There was a brief period when those who should have known better were passing definitive judgement on a man not a week into a three-year deal. “As a backs coach, you are always standing out in the space, usually with a cup of tea and a biscuit,” joked one of the game’s foremost creative thinkers, formerly employed as an assistant coach at Clermont and Auckland Blues.

Soon enough, however, Schmidt had Leinster pulled into line. Munster arrived at the Aviva. There was a throbbing, baying full-house. It was all the motivation Leinster needed to execute a shut-out.

Their line speed and accuracy in the tackle have been key components in how they have developed through the season. They have a tightly knitted defence.

Is Schmidt the king of defence and attack? “I’ve got to say it is a strategy that is very much a co-operative one. I don’t know some of the players we come up against as well as some of our guys do,” he said. “They’ve played against the more experienced opponents for the last eight to 10 years. One of the guys might say ‘if you turn him this way, he is not great on his left foot’. It is a small detail like that which can lead to something.”

Leinster have come so far, so soon this season, playing high-tempo, illuminating rugby at times. European giants have been scattered. Munster, Clermont-Auvergne and Leicester Tigers are merely debris along the road on league and Heineken Cup assaults.

There is much done, so much more to do: “What frustrated me last weekend with Leicester is we felt we manipulated them just the way we wanted to and then didn’t quite finish the pass, didn’t quite get it done,” said Schmidt.

ABYSMAL

Despite Ulster’s abysmal record in Dublin in the Magners, they are a better side this year than they have been in the recent past. They showed Northampton Saints that last Sunday. “Across the board, there are a few areas we are looking to attack them. What we indentified was not too far away from correct last week. For us, this week, we have to make our line breaks count.”

Or else, Ulster will turn their misfortune into fortune in Dublin.

LEINSTER: I Nacewa; S Horgan, E O’Malley, F McFadden,

L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe,

R Strauss, S Wright, L Cullen (capt), D Toner,

K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

ULSTER: A D’Arcy; A Trimble, N Spence, P Wallace,

C Gilroy; I Humphreys, R Pienaar; T Court, R Best

(capt), BJ Botha, T Barker, D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry,

P Wannenburg.

LEINSTER v ULSTER LIVE RTE 2 (KO 8.0)


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