Friday 19 January 2018

A huge chance for lads to put their hands up

Bath clash an opportunity for young guns to impress Leo Cullen and older heads to catch Joe Schmidt's eye

Isa Nacewa applauds the away fans after Leinster’s win at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa applauds the away fans after Leinster’s win at the Liberty Stadium. Photo: Sportsfile
Isa Nacewa claims a high ball against Ospreys. Photo: Sportsfile

Isa Nacewa

What a difference a few weeks makes! We are finally back on track and a few choice fixtures in the Guinness Pro12 helped us massively in that regard. Over the last three weeks we have really had to roll up our sleeves and grind out some tough wins. Munster in Thomond, Connacht at home and the Ospreys in the Liberty Stadium.

It's always a long, rough bus ride to Cardiff airport from Swansea when you lose to the Ospreys, so it was finally good to come away with a win from Liberty Stadium. To put it into context, we hadn't won there since September 2009 when again a man of the match performance from Johnny Sexton led us to an 18-11 win.

We were looking over both team sheets on the bus to the airport and it was interesting to see Shaun Berne, John Fogarty and Leo Cullen all on our team back then - now they are coaches with Leinster.

It was poignant too to note that the Ospreys try scorer that evening was the late New Zealand great Jerry Collins (right).

As you walk along the tunnel out to the pitch at the Liberty Stadium they have flags on either side of the tunnel with images of Ospreys glory days and Jerry's smile is there for all to see celebrating their Pro12 triumph a few years back. Exactly how he should be remembered.

Over the past three weeks we have had reason to celebrate and it was great to see both Sean O'Brien and Sean Cronin notch up 100 caps for Leinster which is a great achievement.

It was particularly special for Sean Cronin to lead the team out at Limerick, his home town, and great that both players contributed to two good team performances and two wins.

But as the season goes on, we are back into a European week.

Bath at the RDS for the last home game of the current European campaign. After a disappointing European campaign so far, the best thing we can do is get back in front of our home crowd and continue on the momentum we have had in the Pro12. We owe it to our fans and to ourselves to show up in the right frame of mind and deliver.

I think that we can do that, and for a number of reasons.

We are all hugely proud to play for this team and we go out every week trying to perform to the best of our ability.

Our position in the Pool is what it is, nothing we can do about it now, but we can leave a good impression on the competition, on the supporters, and leave a mark that will carry us forward into a hugely important few weeks in the Pro12.

The game also marks a special week for six Leinster players who will make their European starting debuts. They have played in big games like the interpros and have worked tirelessly since the start of the season to get an opportunity like this and now they have a shot. Deservedly so.

When the team was announced you could feel the energy in the room not only from the young lads being selected as they appreciated the task that lay in wait but for the rest of us too.

That youth, that energy, you can't but feed off that sort of enthusiasm and those of us a little bit older can't wait to take to the pitch with them as well.

The final element is that with the Six Nations just around the corner, there is still a huge opportunity to impress Joe Schmidt and the Irish coaches.

A lot of the lads were involved in the brief Irish camp that was called last week and on that basis it is great to see that so many of them are in the mix and are front of mind as Joe and the rest of the coaches go about selecting their squad for the Six Nations.

You saw the names omitted from the English squad announced earlier this week. Household names left out of the 33-man squad and plenty of commentary, discourse and media scrutiny. The Irish squad will be no different.

But that can be a positive for us this weekend as our lads want to progress from being in short camps in Carton to full-blown Six Nations squads.

Fingers crossed that reflects in our performance tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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