Sport Rugby

Monday 22 January 2018

'European agony has sharpened Leinster's focus'

Jennings expects big response to Saints defeat against resurgent Edinburgh as presence of Cullen and O'Driscoll helps cause of fringe stars keen to impress

Leo Cullen, here being tackled by John Cooney during training, is back in the Leinster team. Piaras O Midheach Sportsfile
Leo Cullen, here being tackled by John Cooney during training, is back in the Leinster team. Piaras O Midheach Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster will be searching for a positive response after their Heineken Cup setback last weekend -- and returning to the summit of the Pro12, however briefly, could prove just the tonic.

"People are obviously hurting and that can help us sharpen our mind this week," admits flanker Shane Jennings, one of the few players retained in a side that is naturally reshuffled for an away game sandwiched between the Heineken Cup and Leinster's Christmas derby date with Ulster.

Nevertheless, Brian O'Driscoll's retention is significant, although he is still making up for lost time when restricted by calf problems earlier in the league campaign, while the return of Leo Cullen's leadership to the side from the off is also a boon.

"It's a big week for the club as we want to bounce back after a disappointing performance," adds Jennings.

However, his team-mate Luke Fitzgerald, also retained in the side, insists that Leinster must not allow the frustrations of their narrow Heineken Cup defeat to Northampton Saints affect their single-minded approach to tonight's game.

"I don't think we can let things like that affect our focus at all," the winger warns. "It is very dangerous to be letting frustrations out on to the pitch the next week after a disappointment.

"It is important we are calm at this point. We don't have to reinvent the wheel here. We just have to focus on ourselves, work on the basics and get them right and things will hopefully turn around for us very quickly.

"It will be a really tough battle for us against Edinburgh. I can't emphasis that enough. I think they are three out of four in Pro12 as well so they are going really well."

There is a broad assumption that the Scottish side represent a bogey element to Leinster, perhaps harking back to a dismal Heineken Cup exit on this ground in Michael Cheika's second season in charge.

In reality, Leinster have won five on the spin and have won all but one of the last eight against tonight's opposition, a 32-24 reverse in September 2010. Leinster have already lost in Scotland this season though and, as Fitzgerald notes, the hosts have belatedly hit their straps under former Ulster coach Alan Solomons' basic but effective game plan.

It was a tactical approach that all but ended Gloucester's Heineken Cup hopes last Sunday and Munster fans will acknowledge the threat this side can pose if allowed to dictate the terms of the contest -- precisely the reason Leinster also lost last weekend.

Edinburgh have lost just once at home since April and, surprisingly, Connacht were the last Irish province to beat them here, last April.

"They're a good team," insists Jennings. "Everyone thinks they're a bogey team but they have talent. Nobody gives them the credit they deserve.

"They can play very, very well, put width in the game and they have a back-row that can carry well out wide, they've a good set-piece and are pretty destructive at the breakdown. They've a lot of areas in their game that are difficult to play against. On a personal level, their back-row is always good and Dave Denton is a great ball-carrier.

"They have good players and in the past we haven't been as accurate as we should have been over there."

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor is buoyed by the return after several weeks out of hamstring injury sufferer Isaac Boss, a player who really relishes these kind of contests.

Springbok Zane Kirchner is promoted from the bench and it will be interesting to see how the talented Noel Reid runs at 12.

There is a completely new pack in action; Kevin McLaughlin was until recently a first-choice at Leinster so he will be keen to make an impression on O'Connor, while Jordi Murphy has sparkled in his appearances at No 8 this term.

"You take into account that some may need a rest, some have the Ireland management thing and some haven't played a lot," explains assistant coach Greg Feek.

"You have got to get the balance right within the group and what is needed for the game.


"We're not looking too bad in terms of what we have out there, we always want to put out the best team we possibly can and there is a good mix there."

That Edinburgh can strengthen their side from the one which plundered that Kingsholm victory says something; arguably Ross Rennie is their only key absentee as captain Greig Laidlaw, centre Nick De Luca and Denton return to the side.

Leinster coughed up a seven-game winning run last weekend but they have a four-game streak away from home to protect.

"I wouldn't like it to happen," says Fitzgerald, when asked about the prospect of back-to-back defeats. "Thankfully, that says quite a lot about our group, that we can react well to defeats.

"Hopefully we can sort out some of the situations that didn't go so well at the weekend. If we can do that we're going to put ourselves in a good position."

This could be a tight one but, with fringe players seeking to impress and, combined with the leadership of Cullen and O'Driscoll amongst a wounded travelling party, expect Leinster to edge it.

Verdict: Leinster

Edinburgh -- J Cuthbert; D Fife, N De Luca, B Atiga, T Brown; G Tonks, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel, G Gilchrist, O Atkins, C du Preez, r Grant, D Denton. Replacements: A Lutui, W Blaauw, G Cross, S Cox, M Coman, G Hart, T Fenner, S Beard.

Leinster -- Z Kirchner; D Fanning, B O'Driscoll, N Reid, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss: M Bent, A Dundon, M Moore; L Cullen (capt), T Denton; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, J Murphy. Replacements: J Tracy, J O'Connell, T Furlong, Q Roux, D Ryan, J Cooney, J Gopperth, B Macken.

Ref -- P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)


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