Saturday 24 March 2018

A welcome break for everyone before the focus turns back to Pro12 activity

Jamie Heaslip and his team-mates will be glad of the rest after a hard test against Castres on the road last week. Photo: Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip and his team-mates will be glad of the rest after a hard test against Castres on the road last week. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Travelling to Castres last Friday was all too familiar for both players and fans, and as is usually the case, Champions Cup trips to the south of France can be daunting.

For those that managed to get to the Castres game, the bitter cold was as frustrating as the performance.

Robbie Henshaw, Jamie Heaslip and Dan Leavy kept Leinster in the game and they fought hard to get the score back to level.

For fans and players, it was a reminder that there is much to learn for this youthful squad and the perils of trips to the south of France that might lie ahead.

It would be nice to say that this team will learn from this trip and they will work hard to make sure that this sub-standard performance was a one-off.

Professional rugby moves fast and through their own success the announcement of the Irish squad on Monday was a reminder that the Leinster trip to Castres would be already forgotten.

If you were to compare this season to last, a draw to finish in France setting up a home quarter-final would be a welcome success but this season is different.

There are three games that need to be addressed by this squad when time allows them and only then can Leinster have the freedom to move forward. They must be very mindful of accountability in order to avoid the same outcome again.

Montpellier, Munster and Castres away were games where Leinster froze and relied on previous performances to keep them at the top of the table in both competitions. With their form consistent, they showed enough mental strength to disregard the losses.

In two of those three games the performances were defiant but last week against Castres, the players froze.

With Castres throwing caution to the wind, the normal remit of playing away in France would be to peak early, silence the home crowd, get some scores on the board early to urge the home team to lose interest.

In Leinster's case, it was the opposite. Sloppy, awkward play led to plenty of unforced errors. The 50-50 passes that normally go to hand were being left on the ground or knocked on.

Last Friday night was a harsh lesson to the Leinster youth that the bounce of the ball and the risky pass is more likely to land in your favour at home in the comfort of the RDS than away in France.

So the decision to throw a pass or kick a ball that might not be on should be somewhat curtailed in a more hostile environment.

This should not mean that the Leinster squad should become more reserved but, as Jamie Heaslip was clearly saying after the match in the huddle, this group of players need to feel the pain of a poor performance away from home and learn from it .

The end result is a quarter-final meeting with Wasps at home. But he Leinster faithful are ruing the idea of having to play away from home if their team reach the semi-finals.

History will remind us that thinking beyond the next game is extremely dangerous and furthermore if Leinster have real ambitions of winning another European title, they will have to at some stage find themselves playing away in another tough French venue.

This competition doesn't get any easier and even though everyone will want an easy path to the final, the harder route will stand to you if you get through.


In the meantime, the rest of the squad can take a break while the international representatives are with the Ireland squad - a contradiction in itself as most of the Leinster squad, again through their own success, find themselves in Carton House.

For the Leinster management, it's back to planning ahead and managing player availability through the internationals; who's available from the Irish team selection, who's coming back from injury and rehab and, of course, planning for the next game away to Treviso in a couple of weeks.

Still , it's nice to be top of your pool in Europe and to have two weeks off to enjoy it - how about a rewarding holiday to Coventry to watch a Wasps game?

Irish Independent

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