Friday 23 March 2018

Communication and urgency are key as Leinster tackle defensive woes

The Leinster team stand in a huddle
The Leinster team stand in a huddle

Hugh Farrelly

FORMER Leinster and Ireland prop Emmet Byrne has proven his forensic qualities as an analyst.

When it comes to rugby, Byrne is a self-acknowledged anorak and not just about his primary area of expertise at scrum-time, but in every facet of the modern game. It's a microscopic attention to detail that is in keeping with a man who is four years into a degree which will end up with qualification as a surgeon.

Leinster name their team to face Munster today and Byrne highlights the availability of Jonathan Sexton as a major issue. There is a long way to go in the Magners League and, if Sexton's quad muscle injury is still niggling him, there is a chance the out-half will be allowed another week to get ready for the immediate imperatives of the Heineken Cup.


However, Sexton's availability aside, defence has become a massive priority ahead of Saturday's showdown after Leinster's concession of 106 points in their three defeats and one victory to date -- the third worst in the league.

The departure of vaunted defence guru Kurt McQuilkin in the summer has created a void, but it has been wrongly suggested that Leinster are struggling to adapt to a new system under Joe Schmidt.

Leinster are employing the same system, just not executing it as effectively. Against Edinburgh, Leinster's 12-10 lead was turned into a 12-29 deficit in the space of 14 minutes as the Scots crossed for three tries that were aided by lapses in concentration on the part of the visitors.

On 47 minutes, Tim Visser crossed in the corner when he should have been squeezed into touch. Two minutes later, Chris Paterson was allowed to slalom through a host of Leinster defenders who had failed to chase Isa Nacewa's kick in an organised fashion and a few phases later, Mark Robertson was put in space to cross on the right.

Then, in the 61st minute, Leinster players had their backs turned when Mike Blair tapped a quick penalty to send his brother David crashing over the line.

Those scores were not a system failure, but basic errors that Byrne believes will be addressed when Munster come calling on Saturday.

"It's a combination of communication and urgency and that can be rectified," said Byrne. "Edinburgh are not a great team, but when you are not defending well, they will punish you.

"Leinster can use both the drift and blitz defences. The systems teams use now are tailored towards the opposition and certain situations. A few years ago most teams used the drift defence trying to push you to the outside, but now defenders are all about taking space, they shut you down real quick.

"For Visser's try, Leinster didn't come up, Visser should have been hit man and ball, but there was hesitation," added Byrne. "It's not necessarily the outside man's fault, sometimes he has to make a call and if you make the wrong call that close to the line there is very little margin for error. The problem is that the outside man won't come up unless the inside man has because otherwise you break the line. It's not an individual problem, it's a chain, communication problem, the information comes from your inside."

And, when it comes to taking on Munster in a sold-out Lansdowne Road, Byrne believes the urgency will be there in spades.

"There has to be a desire there and organisation to go with it and you would definitely expect that to be there on Saturday," he said. "When a team isn't urgent, it manifests itself in defence more than anywhere else. You need a team coming up, really hungry, really hard and not willy nilly, but in a structured fashion. It's about co-ordinated desire and it's just not quite clicking for Leinster at the moment.

"They've lost a couple of games back-to-back early on and that's why there's pressure. But the worst thing you can do is panic. They have largely the same personnel and they need to focus on getting the same proficiency they've had over the past couple of years.

"They have a new coach and he's obviously a pretty good coach, but when there's change there's two types of reaction, it's either 'we're raising our game' or 'this will take time' and that's what's happening here. So, it's a bit unfair and the timing has been unlucky with injuries and player restrictions.

"I don't think the organisational patterns are overly bad, the players just need to step up and there's no game like Munster to spur Leinster on, particularly in front of a sell-out crowd at the Aviva."

Enough for Leinster to make it five wins in-a-row over their southern rivals?

"Leinster have a hell of a better chance than people are giving them credit for.

"Munster focus Leinster minds more than any other team. That's not media talk, I've been there myself," he said.

"They are not going to leave anything in the tank. The reason they could still lose is because their confidence is low, whereas Munster's is high, but I believe Leinster will compete very strongly in the facets of the game where they need to. This one will go down to the wire."

Irish Independent

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