Wednesday 22 November 2017

Autumn window of opportunity opens up for Leinster backroom

Seán O'Brien was left out of the trip to Chicago. Photo: Sportsfile
Seán O'Brien was left out of the trip to Chicago. Photo: Sportsfile

This week's euphoria threw a blanket of pride across the nation after the rugby heroes who travelled to Chicago grabbed the greatest individual rugby scalp of all that will rightly be cemented in history.

Life is all about timing and it's the same in sport. While Ireland were flying to Chicago, Leinster were on the routine Pro12 campaign in Italy.

The Zebre game will never break record attendances, particularly away but also when there is an international scheduled against the world champions. Professional rugby is all about the ability of players to maintain an ambition to play for their country's jersey while, at the same time, keeping a standard in the day job at your province.

When Seán O'Brien was left out of the trip to Chicago, under normal cynical circumstances this could have been seen as a blessing in disguise and those close to him I'm sure would have uttered that excuse.

His recovery fell short of the US trip and he was banished to the Pro12 in Italy. The weekly contrasts of professional rugby: 80,000 fans at the international and 1,000 at the club game. And, luckily for Irish rugby, maximum rewards for both games. O'Brien will star for Ireland over the next few games and he will steer both club and country towards success over the next few years but for him, and indeed Rhys Ruddock, the small margins of calls both on and off the pitch and off would have tested their resolve last week.

Playing a game you're expected to win is always hard and as a young player it can be a thankless task. Nevertheless, the Leinster coaching staff have managed the young and Academy players better than most in the past.

There was an enforced reliance on them last season but Stuart Lancaster's development expertise has certainly helped and so too has the knowledgeable and experienced Girvan Dempsey, on the back of his time with them in the academy system.

The comfort of all the above means that a performance by an young player will be recognised and rewarded throughout the season. The end result of course means that 43 does not fit into 23 so the normal player attrition will occur even before David Nucifora shines his light on the province. However, like it or lump it, healthy competition is good for everybody, both management and players.

When a team is going well everybody wants to be a part of it and the performance against Zebre outlined the intent from those who have been given the jersey.


Adam Byrne has performed well over the last few games and looks like he has more to give at the higher level. His power through the tackle as a winger has not been seen for a while as the traditional route is around instead of through the opposition.

Leinster's start was slow but Ross Byrne mastered the weather with an outstanding all-round performance. They managed five tries, gave squad players crucial game time, introduced new players like Tom Daly to the squad system, gave vital rehab to the returning injured Irish players, maintained a high standard in performance and still ended up top of the table. Not a bad result in a game that went under the radar.

Rest periods are always welcome in the busy schedule and they are definitely more enjoyable while sitting on the top of the league. It is however a vital time for regrouping and preparing for the next phase of both competitions. Enjoying the international period is in direct contrast to last season.

There will always be an injury concern with Leinster providing the most players to the international set-up but the culture in both camps is similar and winning becomes a habit that is hard to break.

The challenge for the Champions Cup will always be strong when the Pro12 day job is consistent. With the next outing against an in-form Scarlets away on November 25, Leinster will use this time to address areas in their game they would not normally get the chance to work on during the daily grind. The coaches will work on small details that will matter in big games ahead and, unlike this time last year, there will undoubtedly be bigger games ahead.

Irish Independent

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