Byrne insists Leinster must rediscover lost art of hooking
REDISCOVERING the lost art of hooking could be a key factor in Leinster's Heineken Cup bid, according to Shane Byrne.
The former Ireland and Lions No 2 watched Matt O'Connor's side come under huge pressure at scrum-time in Castres last weekend -- they lost three against the head -- and he believes the policy of attempting to drive over the ball is to blame.
In the end, it didn't cost the three-time champions, as they came from 14-0 down to keep their European bid on track, but as the competition steps up in the months to come, Byrne reckons that the Blues must develop a strategy to allow Sean Cronin the opportunity to secure their own ball.
A change in the rules at the start of the season saw the 'hit' neutralised and scrum-halves have to put the ball in straight; Byrne believes Leinster have yet to adapt.
"With the change in rules, the props have to learn how to scrum and it is not just about size any more, technique can get you through," he explained.
"One of the techniques lost in recent years, as we saw in the Leinster game at the weekend, is hooking the ball. It is an awful pity, because it is an art that we grew up with, and the old adage that it is seven men against eight (when the hooker lifts his foot to strike the ball) is not true.
"There are plenty of techniques you can use to get your strike away -- you just need to disrupt the opposition hooker, move him around and distract him while you hook the ball and, if it is a case that you are up against a very, very strong front-row, what better way to stay in control of the ball than get it out of the scrum fast?"
That Leinster managed to turn things around in difficult circumstances was impressive, says Byrne, who believes their depth will stand to them as the European season goes on.
"The replacements had an enormous effect on the team; the hunger that they came on with was impressive," he said.
"Shane Jennings executed one smash in the maul, while Cian Healy had an obvious effect, he was fantastic. It needed that belief.
"There was luck in it, decisions going their way, a dropped ball here and there, and they were in trouble. That 'go-forward' that Leinster have missed since O'Brien's injury... yet they still managed to keep their noses in the game.
"If you give them a chance, their character will shine through and that is what it was -- a character-driven display, full of heart to stay in there. That game had the worst and best of Leinster all wrapped in one. Allowing themselves to go 14-0 behind... and the calmness they showed by getting it back was absolutely class."
Leinster's win meant that the Irish provinces completed a clean sweep for the third time in this season's pool stages and also saw the four sides go unbeaten in France this season.
And Byrne believes that the fear factor of going to France is now gone for the Irish sides, which is just as well, given Munster and Leinster could well draw Top 14 opponents away in the quarter-finals.
"Nowadays, instead of there being something of the unknown going to France -- the thoughts of 'what are you going to meet?' and the intimidating atmosphere -- they just refocus themselves and concentrate on their own preparations and getting ready," he said.
"The Irish provinces have been inflicting their own game on the French, where they used to go over there and try to cope with what they were going to do to you. We now go to France and play our game."
Byrne, who appears in the independent.ie Heineken Cup Star Predictor video with Tony Ward and comedian Garry Cooke, is predicting three wins out of four for the Irish provinces this weekend, with Connacht's task against Saracens a step too far.
"Hopefully, Leinster see it through. Connacht have a chance, but, in all likelihood, it's too much. But, Round 6, and they're in with a shout. Munster should get past Edinburgh if Paul O'Connell plays half as well as he did last weekend.
"But, the game of the weekend is Ulster v Leicester Tigers, they're evenly matched, but that 100pc record sits well with Ulster and Ruan Pienaar will be pivotal. He's on fire and I can't see a weak point."