Thursday 18 January 2018

A welcome return to action as Leinster look to maintain form

The ever-competitive Mike Ross is down (with injury) but not out just yet. Photo: Sportsfile
The ever-competitive Mike Ross is down (with injury) but not out just yet. Photo: Sportsfile

The Leinster squad will be eager to get back into the match routine, as the last few weeks of international rugby voyeurism will have reinvigorated the mind after the mental fatigue of the first phase of the season.

The international games have injected a kind of urgency back into Irish rugby that hasn't been seen since the successful Heineken Cup and Grand Slam days.

As the competition for places heats up in the Irish squad, Leinster's continued success is the platform for players who will want international and Lions glory later this season.

One week on the sidelines is a lifetime in professional rugby and one can feel less than useless when not selling your wares at the weekend.

However, with the repetitive nature of the season, games do come around very quickly and players need to maintain their physical and mental hunger through success and failure.

Everyone on the outside will hail Joe Schmidt for Ireland's current success but the provincial structure needs to remain proud of the hand it had to play in the performances in both Chicago and the Aviva. Leinster selfishly can be proud of the fact that several of the high-performing players in these games cut their teeth in the Pro12 less than 12 months ago and their success has been largely through the systems in place.

The ever-competitive Mike Ross is down (with injury) but not out just yet. The level to which Tadhg Furlong had to push himself to reach to displace Ross currently has him as a sure starter for the Lions tighthead position next summer.

The same goes for the battle in the back-row which has produced top-quality performances from both Josh van der Flier and Dan Leavy.

That said, the Leinster show must go on and valuable progress can be achieved even when you are shorn of your best players throughout this period.

Any of the players can look at last season and think of the opportunities seized by the ones who were selected while the Irish players were on international duty. Leinster will have had to look at their defensive structures and make sure the yellow card and penalty count is lowered for the rest of the season.

This indiscipline is normally a sign that players are either unhappy or unaware of the current defensive structures in place and both of these excuses need to be left behind if they are to survive in either competition.


Rest and recovery will be vital at this time too but it is important that players don't lose the impetus of the early-season success.

Leinster will need Adam Byrne's try count to continue and Ross Byrne's form will have to be given time, while their colleagues are on Irish duty.

Scarlets away used to be a traditional fixture in Stradey Park, but Parc y Scarlets, a shopping centre car park, will provide little or no atmosphere. Unless of course the Welsh crowd start their Christmas shopping early, Leinster can expect a small home crowd.

Scarlets have been on a roll with a nice victory against a very poor Glasgow side recently so with the season well into winter time, Leinster are going to have to tough this one out. The carrot at the end of the stick is a home game against current Welsh minnows the Dragons next week.

With these next two Pro12 games having been in the thoughts of the Leinster management over the last three weeks, you can be sure there are plans already in place, with a view to the restart of European rugby on December 9.

The onus will be on the players to raise their performances on the back of their time off. The only fly in the ointment is the possibility of injuries and the fatigue of the retuning Irish players.

But while injury is part of the game, so too is recovery. Rory O'Loughlin's return to fitness will provide Leinster with another boost to a group of young players eager to make their mark whenever and wherever the chance arrives.

Irish Independent

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