Monday 19 March 2018

Blues must embrace transition phase by sorting out set-piece and discipline issues

Josh Van Der Flier must be secured under a long-term contract as soon as possible. Picture: Sportsfile
Josh Van Der Flier must be secured under a long-term contract as soon as possible. Picture: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

It was clear last weekend that tomorrow's game against Toulon might see Leinster having to revert back to pure old Irish tactics of pride and passion.

Johnny Sexton, heavily criticised both during and after the game, chose to put Toulon in their own corner by trying a little dink that missed and ended up going dead.

Call me old fashioned but if Sexton had put that first kick from the hands into the skies, they would have stated their intent at the Stade Mayol.

Given what was expected from the French side, Leinster managed to contain the might of Toulon's individual talent. Toulon seemed more intent on taking Sexton out in the early stages than playing the rugby they are capable of.

Sexton copped unnecessary flak for his performance and quite possibly he was shielding the impact of Ma'a Nonu and Drew Mitchell's early hits on him. A plethora of historic concussions do not need to be added to at this stage of his season or career.

Criticism of Leinster seems a weekly event these days and comes with the territory of professional sport.

Statistics will prove that in this competition to date Leinster have rarely performed worse.

However, they moved ball with conviction and Luke Fitzgerald, again to the fore, moved his feet in a manner that had the Toulon backline on the back foot. For the first time in many seasons, it looked like Leinster had a game-plan.

Many will say that Leinster never looked capable of scoring tries but after handing Toulon 15 penalties, and spending a total of 30 minutes of the game with only 14 men, the mighty Toulon still only managed two rumbling tries from errors in set-pieces.

It is quite clear even to those most faithful that Leinster are in transition. This transition needs to be embraced.

The call to go back to basics has been sung for way too long, but for Leo Cullen, he needs to dominate the set-pieces: crooked lineouts need to be a thing of the past and pride in this area needs to be reinvented.

The scrums have sorted themselves out after the Bath away game but the underlying cancer in this team is the discipline.

For Leinster, three yellow cards and the worrying penalty count prove that there are deeper trust issues in this side.

However, there are plenty of positives.

Josh van der Flier will be called 'one for the future' when in fact he is 'one for the now'. The technique he uses at the breakdown has not been seen before in Irish rugby.

His centre of gravity allows him to stay upright and legal at the breakdown, while he uses his arms as two accurate cranes launching in around the ball held by the opposing player.

Van der Flier has to be secured by contract now and allowed to grow his talent in province and country.

If it wasn't for Steffon Armitage's two tries, he would have battled for the man of the match award, along with his equally impressive back-row partner, Rhys Ruddock.


Devin Toner has managed to find a niche that if nurtured in the right way will definitely trouble both club and international opposition.

Toner robbed at least two balls from Toulon's lineout and through the game he got closer and closer to finally reading their lineouts. This skill sets him apart from other second-rows in this country and abroad.

When you get a second chance at a team, there are always wrongs to be put right. That goes for the management too. Having faith in selection this week, the management will have to prove they are not afraid of making big calls.

However, what they also need to quickly understand is that in Ian Madigan's case, these big calls simply must to be made during the game as well.

Irish Independent

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