Tuesday 19 February 2019

'Girvan knows how we play and how we think'

Leinster centre is around long enough to know Blues cannot afford to underestimate ‘unlucky’ Bath, writes Marcus Ó Buachalla

Noel Reid going through his paces in Energia Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Noel Reid going through his paces in Energia Park. Photo: Sportsfile

Marcus Ó Buachalla

There has been quite a bit of talk this week about the build-up to tomorrow's game - naturally enough - but for once it's not just the history and the nine games that have gone before. There is also the added spice of a man on the inside. A man in the know.

Girvan Dempsey may be a Terenure man and a proud Leinster man but tomorrow he wears a different shade of blue as he sits down on the Bath bench.

He was a key figure in the development of so many Leinster players in his role as academy manager and then, of late, the development of the Leinster backs in his role as backs coach.

He played a pivotal role in delivering the historic double last season but now he finds himself analysing and dissecting the players he helped to that trophy-laden season. Go figure.

"It's an interesting one all right," says one of those that played under him with Leinster 'A' and the Leinster senior team, Noel Reid.

"The level of analysis these days is pretty good with all teams so there are not that many tricks left really.

"To try to counteract that you have to try to have variety to your game so that the opposition can't read you too easily.

"But this is a different dynamic again. Girvan knows how we play, how we think, how we go about the game. He knows our play book. Or at least he thinks he does!

"I think that is where someone like Felipe (Contepomi) is crucial. We have moved things along definitely under him and I suppose for us this weekend it's about representing the group and the coaching team that we have now. A lot has changed since last season, including the play book!"

That group have done very well in the Guinness PRO14 and sit comfortable on top of Conference B with only one loss all season but the landscape is different in Pool 1 of the Heineken Champions Cup.

Toulouse are out ahead and Leinster are leading the chase. It makes for an intriguing weekend of action.

"The pool is still wide open. If Bath win they would be in to second place, minimum, and if the result in the Wasps and Toulouse game goes their way I think they could even go into first place.

Unlucky

"They have shown some really good rugby this season and have maybe been unlucky at times but they are very much in with a shout and we have to make sure that we can put in a performance to get the result and to hopefully keep that pressure on Toulouse."

Easier said than done.

Reid, now 28 and with more than 100 Leinster caps to his name, is one of the more experienced players within the squad and he more than remembers the last visit to the Rec in 2015.

"I wasn't involved in the match day squad but it was everything. The crowd, the ground, the dressing-room being fairly tight. It was a real dog fight and they ultimately held on for a 19-16 win when we thought we might have salvaged a draw.

"You saw the game last weekend against Sale and the 7-7 draw, Bath are well able to compete physically and yet have the danger out wide to make it count when they get a sniff so yeah, there are enough of us around and in the squad that remember that game and how difficult it was for us."

That loss put Leinster seriously on the back foot with no wins from their opening two games and only a losing bonus point to show for their efforts.

Two losses to Toulon would follow to end any hopes of a miraculous comeback but they then welcomed a fully-primed Bath side to the RDS in January 2016.

Leinster went into the game with six players starting in Europe for the first time. But Leinster won and some of those players have gone on to become Irish internationals and even Lions in the three or so years since. Reid came off the bench that evening in the RDS.

"I think it's a credit to the system we have here. There were definitely question marks over the selection and Leo putting such faith in those young lads like Tadhg (Furlong), Lukey (McGrath) and Garry (Ringrose) but look at what they have achieved since then.

"And even just that night they more than repaid his faith in them. I think we saw something that night in the performance.

"There was a bit of doom and gloom about the place but we all saw something in the RDS that evening and it was then a question of building on it."

Build on it they did, reaching a Champions Cup and a PRO12 semi-final the next season before winning the double last season.

For that, they have a target on their backs. Leinster may be chasing Toulouse, but everyone else wants a crack off the double winners.

"We have seen that in a few of the games this season but that's to be expected and I think is something to be embraced. We don't dwell on it by any means.

"I think Bath will just focus on the team in front of them this weekend and them getting a win. They will want that more than anything else."

So what has he seen from them so far this season that makes him most wary?

Interesting

"The Premiership is interesting this season because you have Saracens and Exeter creating a bit of a gap to the rest but you look at the chasing pack and Bath are in there.

"They play good rugby and I think you saw last weekend that when it doesn't go to plan they have other ways to grind out a result.

"They went 70 or so minutes last weekend against Sale without a score yet still had the composure to stick to the plan and the systems to get them over the line with that late try to get the draw.

"That doesn't happen if you don't have a team that buys in and gets it. This is a team playing for each other, for their supporters but we know too that we'll have a lot of blue in the Rec on Saturday and we'll hopefully give them something to get behind too."

Plenty of history and a few more chapters to be written yet.

Irish Independent

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