Tuesday 12 December 2017

Dragons at home provides Leinster with the perfect opportunity to bounce back

Isa Nacewa during training this week SPORTSFILE
Isa Nacewa during training this week SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

There are times when you can over look a game and brush it under the carpet as a once-off defeat hoping nobody notices, particularly when it is during the November series.

Scarlets away could easily be one of those games but during the flight home last Friday night, the Leinster management will have been thinking that if they don't address the glaringly obvious errors and ill discipline, there could be more flights home like this.

If we have learned anything over the last few weeks, it is that blooding players and building squads is beneficial for the medium- to long-term health and performance of a team.

Often the decision to pick inexperienced players is forced thorough injury or other necessity and rarely chosen by a coach thinking of anything other than the next game.

When younger players are introduced to a match-day squad, there is an onus on them to step up to a level demanded by the team in previous games but there is also a responsibility for the senior players to maintain their standard for the younger players to enjoy and learn from.

It is likely that the younger player gets less time to prove himself, so every chance and opportunity should be given to them by their peers to flourish. This was not the case last Friday in Llanelli.

Isa Nacewa (bar arguably Felipe Contepomi) is Leinster's greatest overseas player. His performance levels rarely dip below excellent whether at home or away.

As a captain he leads by example in every department. Trips away to Wales in the depths of winter aren't for the faint-hearted and they always test the mental strength but a standard must always be maintained.

Responsibility will rest on the senior players to maintain consistency in performance in the less glamorous games or venues and, apart from Nacewa, and the new senior players, Ross Byrne, Dan Leavy, Noel Reid, Dominic Ryan and Adam Byrne, others struggled.

The handling errors made it look like they were stuck in a gym for the last few weeks. But the most worrying aspect was the discipline.

Initially, Mike McCarthy's yellow card and early in the second half Barry Daly's red card, meant that Leinster played with 14 men for 50 minutes.

McCarthy is one the most experienced and conversely Barry Daly one of the most inexperienced. But they put the pressure on the rest of their team-mates for this time.

When a team can only play with 14 men their offensive structure is severely limited and defensive alignment is the same. To the Scarlets' credit, they gave a lesson in how to play against a team down to 14 men.

Leinster will be eager to correct the mid-season blip at home to the Dragons tomorrow night but with the international players likely to drift back into contention, some might not see a chance to wear the blue jersey until early next year.

Nevertheless, the conveyor belt keeps rolling and Leinster could stack an U-25 team for the rest of the season and still compete.

Jordi Murphy aside, the injury toll returning is not too bad but there will be a big battle ahead with the Johnny Sexton tug of war.


Whatever happens and whatever decision is reached for the good of Sexton and his career, Leo Cullen and his management must kick and scream for his services.

It's no reflection on the outstanding talent coming through in Ross Byrne and Joey Carbery but Sexton is a match-winner and Leinster are going to need him in all of the play-offs.

Tomorrow's return to the RDS will see off the demons of Llanelli and allow Leinster get back to winning ways.

The away trip to Northampton could be the making or breaking of the Champions Cup pool. With the competition for selection still high in Dublin 4, all is still well in Leinster but nobody wants to look back at the end of the season and possibly lament the fact we should have seen the signs.

The professional rugby season moves fast, so by all means brush last week's game under the carpet and move on.

Irish Independent

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