Wednesday 12 December 2018

Comment: There's a lot of euphoria around Leinster right now - they are ten points up before Saracens game kicks off

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, left, and senior coach Stuart Lancaster
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen, left, and senior coach Stuart Lancaster

Victor Costello

The best part of Leinster’s loss to the Ospreys last weekend is the fact that the PRO14 is temporarily over, as the focus shifts to the Champions Cup.

Defeat to Edinburgh away some weeks ago proved hard for the management to swallow due to a lack of mental discipline shown.

The loss against the Ospreys was because Leinster simply were not good enough on the day and the abnormal injury toll cost them dearly in a hostile and internationally loaded Swansea environment.

There were some great individual performances but to lose three experienced players in the backline – no team could survive that, especially away from home.

In 1997 Leinster beat a world renowned Leicester side in Donnybrook; Tigers captain Richard Cockerill later said in the media that Leinster had won the battle but Leicester would win the war.

It has grated with me ever since, but he was right. The same can be said of the Ospreys last weekend.

There is nothing like European rugby week to focus the mind of the players and coaches.

This is a game that has come about due to the hard work done last autumn. Saracens come to Dublin a weaker side then their reputation suggests but in this competition, you can’t take anything for granted.

Saracens will carry mental baggage to Dublin. Some of their players will want to prove themselves for English selection.

This season, for various reasons, this season, Sarries have not performed the way they have for the last three years. And without Billy Vunipola, they are half the team they pretend to be.

This season more than ever, Ireland and its provinces have proven their worth against both the English system and its clubs.

Leinster have beaten the Premiership champions (Exeter) twice, and we know the value of beating England in Twickenham. However, Saracens got a wild card into the play-offs and as much as they are not good enough to win it, they have the potential to take down Leinster.

The Leinster management must make not make key selection mistakes that cost them in the business end of last season in both competitions. Leo Cullen and his backroom team need to balance this side with experience, form and momentum.

There is a lot of euphoria at the moment – there is no doubt that Leinster are 10 points up before the game starts – but this is the time for thinking with the head and not the heart.

There are many sub-plots present in both teams and as Leinster have proved before, you have to go out and win a Champions Cup, as opposed to expecting it to happen.

For the first time in a long while, the Six Nations experience will have a positive effect on the provinces, because as much as there was a physical toll on the Leinster contingent, the mental sense of victory will keep the mind and body refreshed.

From a Leinster player’s point of view, it is vital to keep this momentum and winning feeling going.

If you compare Leinster to this time last year, there are similarities but also differences that make them contenders for the Cup.

Pick any sub-unit and you will find a world-class player.

Tadhg Furlong has hit a level that we thought wasn’t possible for a tighthead.

James Ryan and Dan Leavy, who both nailed down their positions in the Ireland pack, can be guaranteed to again provide a full 80 minutes of grunt and abrasiveness beyond their years.

Add this to the normal day-to-day high-grade performances of the likes of Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Garry Ringrose, plus the competitive nature of those who are good enough for this level, but won’t make the XV.

Then throw in overseas stars Scott Fardy and James Lowe and you have the fourth European star in the making.

It’s all coming together nicely for Leinster, but they must not lose focus of the task at hand.

If they can manage that, the feel good mood will continue for a while yet.

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