Sunday 24 June 2018

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Leinster are in the best shape of their history - now they must take advantage

Saracens did their best to put Johnny Sexton off his game but he simply laughed off their efforts and took care of business as usual. Photo: Sportsfile
Saracens did their best to put Johnny Sexton off his game but he simply laughed off their efforts and took care of business as usual. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

There is no doubt that last weekend's victory against Saracens was one of the most special days in Leinster's history - the home crowd were out in force and were vocal too, which added to pressure on both teams.

Just like the day before in Limerick, a victory over serial European champions will always set down a marker and Leinster will now be the team to beat for the rest of the campaign.

While there was no way the home side were going to lose the game, the modern-day stats were against them for most of the game.

They say defence wins games and this is true but Leinster tested their own defence to the max by handing the ball to Saracens and then obliterating them in both open and loose play.

This of course is admirable and a definite spill-over from the impressive Grand Slam win but could become costly in the rest of the play-offs.

Winning rugby is the most enjoyable rugby you will ever play. When you are winning, bumps and bruises don't seem to hurt as the mind controls the pain thresholds.

Arrogant

With Johnny Sexton being an obvious target from an arrogant and idiotic Saracens game-plan, the out-half was able to laugh at the English side's best efforts.

Some of last year's best Lions players like Mario Itoje, for the second time in four weeks, got thrown around like a rag doll by Leinster's new breed of performers.

James Ryan and Dan Leavy once again showed an incredible work rate and hunger. Leinster's will to win has been spearheaded by those who have not yet tasted European glory and with the performances beyond their age. the future is very bright for both club and country.

Eddie Jones has been vocal about the lack of time he has with his players and the bad habits they picked up in the Premiership.

Leinster's players, on the other hand, looked rusty from lack of time with their province and even with a severely attritional Six Nations campaign still managed to outperform the former champions with ease.

You could pick another Leinster side from the injured players list and that team would carry many international caps too. As it stands, Leinster are in the best shape of their history.

They are sitting pretty with a home semi-final against a Scarlets side they know well through the recent highs and lows of the Guinness PRO14, a plethora of players to come back from injury and a vocal home crowd.

Under normal circumstances, this two-week series against the Italian sides would give Leinster time to regroup and yet gain maximum points from the day job; however, due to the recent success of these players, the next two games could not have happened at a worse time and could have a negative effect on their ambitions.

The idea of racking up 40 odd points at home to Zebre in the RDS can possibly lead to a false sense of security.

It was clear that after the Irish players left Twickenham with the Grand Slam, that they were keen to get back into high-profile competitive rugby and it will be imperative they keep their focus through the next couple of RDS outings.

Leinster will need to be more creative and have better execution if they want to end the season with the silverware that they crave.

There's no doubt last Sunday was an enjoyable day out for both players and fans, but these European Cups do not come easy and Scarlets will want to upset the party again.

We have gotten used to the precision ploy over the Six Nations and some of Leinster's execution was sub-standard. Pointless and aimless box kicks were coupled with a couple of overrun moves in the backline attack.

Of course they were going to be rusty but so might have been Saracens. The amount of spilled balls from the English side can be attributed to the same lack of precision or indeed Leinster's strong defence.

The management made bold selection choices which turned out to be the correct ones.

The backbone of this team is beginning to be shaped in the pack; this was the case of the last three European wins and no doubt will provide the same outcome this season.

Irish Independent

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