Saturday 18 November 2017

Blues must get ruthless - but Six Nations won't help

Eoin Reddan was hugely influential for Leinster before picking up an injury
Eoin Reddan was hugely influential for Leinster before picking up an injury

Victor Costello

Reaching the quarter-finals in Europe has been a standard requirement by all who follow or are involved with Leinster over the last many years.

The manner in which this is attained has been the only thing that has differed.

Last weekend's draw against Wasps and the subsequent maths was nerve-wracking, but the outcome of a home quarter-final against Bath provides Leinster with the best chance of a semi-final for the last few years.

Leinster, after the initial sin-binning, grasped control of the first half by not allowing Wasps near the ball.

The home back-row of Nathan Hughes, Ashley Johnson and James Haskell struggled to make the gains like they did the previous week against Harlequins, while their backline was starved of the possession needed to get Christian Wade and Tom Varndell into the game.

The defensive hits and ball-carrying by Leinster were at the level needed at this stage of the season.

The marshalling and manipulation of the referee, Jerome Garces, by both Eoin Reddan and Jamie Heaslip was outstanding and deteriorated when both were off the pitch.

Unfortunately for Leinster, all this possession and territory was not reflected on the scoreboard and like all European matches, it's not necessarily the performance that wins games but the lack of errors and the maintenance of discipline

Nobody could complain about the hunger and ambition of this Leinster squad.

Intelligent

The back three's work rate was incredible and the intelligent handling of the ball out to the wings where the gaps were, showed Leinster are reading teams on the run as opposed to standing back and waiting for the game to come to them.

Heaslip, Dominic Ryan and Jordi Murphy in the back-row made sufficient yardage to put Wasps on the back foot without Leinster losing their support players.

This retaining of possession caused Wasps to scratch their heads for most of the first half. With the set-pieces firing, Leinster looked in full control.

Where did they go wrong? Throughout the pool stages, the tolerance for errors and under-performance is always more.

Most of the top teams will historically require a level of consistency to be able to tighten their error count at the crucial pool matches, and when it comes to the knockout stages, the team that makes the fewest mistakes normally wins.

The way it has unfolded from Leinster was that when they were at their most dominant after 40 minutes, they walked into the changing-room at half-time with 14 men.

While Matt O'Connor or Leo Cullen could not fault them in the first half, giving the opposition this advantage was always going to cost them.

When Kane Douglas sat out the first ten minutes of the second half, Wasps' profile players began to find their form. Twelve points not kicked and some sloppy play and all of a sudden Leinster were scrambling to hold on to a draw.

Leinster deserve to be in a quarter-final, while lucky that it's at home. During the Six Nations, they will be starved of many of their front-liners and during this time, Leinster must focus on their discipline and error count in games.

While Bath have had some good performances, particularly Toulouse away, they are beatable.

Balancing the Pro12 while without some big names, is what O'Connor is used to this season. Getting Leinster up to quarter-final standard has to be the aim over the coming weeks.

The gap from the Six Nations to the quarter-final has always proven problematic for all provinces.

For Leinster, providing upwards of 14 players to the Ireland squad is the side-effect of their success.

The Six Nations will galvanise the top Leinster performers and the players left at home can focus on the Pro12.

performing

There is little doubt that Leinster are performing again; the sin binning of opposition players is testament to the pressure they are applying.

Dealing with the opposition when they are against the ropes is something they need to get back. Anger, ambition, control and discipline in all contact sports are vital for success.

Leinster both have the time and the squad to get it right between now and April.

So far this season, inconsistency has been rife across the board of the pool performers. The teams who make the finals from the other pools will have more control of their squads over the coming weeks than Leinster will have.

However, by April, Leinster will be better equipped than ever this season and with the injured players returning match fit from the Six Nations they should inject the ruthlessness back into the squad.

Irish Independent

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