Saturday 18 November 2017

Schmidt rooting out complacency

Toner given chance as Leinster rotate for Glasgow clash

Leinster's Jonathan Sexton limbers up at training ahead of tomorrow's Heineken Cup encounter with Glasgow at the RDS
Leinster's Jonathan Sexton limbers up at training ahead of tomorrow's Heineken Cup encounter with Glasgow at the RDS
David Kelly

David Kelly

CHAMPIONS don't flirt with complacency. Glasgow Warriors pitch up in Dublin tomorrow as rank outsiders (16 points on the handicap) against reigning European champions who are used to winning, save for one upset, all of their Heineken Cup home matches.

Still, Joe Schmidt would have been forgiven for taking a keener interest than usual in his side's approach to training yesterday.

Roy Keane used to tell the slackers from the workers by how his players left the dressing-room for training.

Suffice it to say, few of the Leinster lads were walking on their heels in Donnybrook yesterday morning.

And when Sean Lineen's words travelled the short distance to Dublin 4 later that afternoon, Leinster's squad knew that they will be expecting something a little more feisty than a languorous lunchtime engagement.

"This is a massive game for us," said Lineen. "Over in Ireland, we've been written off, and our win last week was all down to 'a fortuitous bounce', but there was a lot more around our game than that. Coaches do read newspapers, despite what they tell you.

"But I think they have every reason to write us off as Leinster are the current champions and we've had one-offs before -- we've beaten Toulouse, Wasps, Gloucester and Biarritz at home -- so this is a massive challenge for us. Can we back it up?"

That answer should be a resounding no.

Schmidt's acceptance that his side are overwhelming favourites clearly dovetails with his comfort in continuing to rotate his starting line-up post-World Cup; for him, the best 23 to start and finish the match is what counts.

Hence the changes at centre, scrum-half, hooker and second-row, where Devin Toner will aim to add weighty substance to those tipping him for a significant breakthrough this season; his tussle with Richie Gray will have most of the 22,000 crowd craning their necks in anticipation.

"Steven Sykes got a knock on his shoulder so he's out for two weeks," explains Schmidt.

"It is unfortunate as he hasn't got the run of games we would like for him so we haven't been able to integrate him.

"But Dev Toner, even when he came on against Montpellier, had a key role in the build-up to Sean Cronin's try.

"He took a ball that was pretty tight with traffic and gave a really good pre-contact offload to Sean O'Brien and, from the ensuing ruck, we managed to get Sean Cronin to the corner.

"Dev carries really well and his collision stuff has got better. I have to stand on a couple of boxes to get that high.

"It is a challenge for any guy that height to bend down. Dev and Richie is going to be a contest within a contest."

Glasgow are no mugs, as Bath will testify. The English side were mugged last week in the final minute when, despite hoarding the possession stats, impressive out-half Duncan Weir's attempted last-minute drop-goal deflected to play Gray onside to snatch a dramatic final-second seven-pointer.

That made it five wins on the trot for a side who, only two seasons ago, managed to make the Celtic League play-offs. The Warriors have a typically Scottish knack of loitering without intent in a match before pouncing late on.

"Last week was a very small step and no one is getting carried away because we know there's going to be lots more bumps along the way," explains Lineen.

"But we're heading in the right direction at the moment and this is a massive test for us. We're under no illusions about that. We have to go and look to win the game. If you go over there against a quality team like that and think you can just hang in there and get a losing bonus, you'll get thumped.

"This game for us is one we're looking to win. They got a draw against a quality Montpellier team and they will have targeted this game for a win."

Despite Leinster's own late, late show last week, Schmidt and his management team -- including jubilant new father Jono Gibbes -- will have been reflecting on the one that got away, heightening the anxiety to secure four points, at least, from this home fixture.

"I think there are a few tributaries to Glasgow's wave," Schmidt observes lyrically, his admiration of Weir confirming a definite flow to the pre-match chat.

"There is last week's result, there is their World Cup guys coming back, and the fact they beat us here already this season.


"We probably had 60pc of possession that day but they showed their mettle. They will hang in games and, if they see an opening, they are quick to seize upon it."

Arguably, Leinster shouldn't entertain giving this sucker an even break; you'd fancy them in a dogfight as well but this bout should be consigned to the mathematicians by the hour mark at least.

One expects Leinster must be on the front foot from the off.

"I hope it's coming together," says Schmidt hesitantly, returning to the morning's final training session.

"We trained pretty well this morning and I thought it went well. There's a pretty focused outlook from the whole team. It is difficult to judge.

"You ask a coach before a match and sometimes you shrug your shoulders, you don't really know until you get out onto the field.

"It's weeks like this when coaches and players just look forward to kick-off. You just stay calm and concentrate on what you can."

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER -- R Kearney; I Nacewa, E O'Malley, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, E Reddan; H Van Der Merwe, S Cronin, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, J Heaslip. Reps: R Strauss, C Healy, N White, R Ruddock, S Jennings, I Boss, I Madigan, F Carr.

GLASGOW WARRIORS -- S Hogg; T Seymour, P Murchie, G Morrison, C Shaw; D Weir, C Cusiter; R Grant, P MacArthur, M Cusack, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), R Harley, J Barclay, R Wilson. Reps: F Gillies, J Welsh, E Kalman, T Ryder, H Pyrgos, C Fusaro, T Nathan, F Aramburu.

Referee: A Small (England)

Leinster v Glasgow Warriors,

Live, Sky Sports 2, tomorrow, 12.45

Irish Independent

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