Thursday 18 January 2018

Leinster are the envy of other provinces but there's plenty of work still to be done

James Lowe in action against Tom McCartney of Connacht. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
James Lowe in action against Tom McCartney of Connacht. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Leinster's performances over the Christmas period reached both extremes, but generally it's the final score on both counts that's the only thing that matters.

Tomorrow's game against Ulster will be a test more for the northern province than for Leinster.

With Champions Cup set to return next week, Leo Cullen's side are in fine fettle and a clean sweep of the provinces will help confidence and momentum for the next phase of Europe.

Leinster-Munster games transcend all generations and carry the same characteristics through the ages. The sub-plots are well documented prior to kick-off and with the players knowing they are fighting for Irish places, this can sometimes lead to a stalemate scenario. But not last St Stephen's Day.

Leinster controlled the game from the off and the Munster team and crowd were left silent in awe. If we stop it there, Leinster's performance in Thomond Park was enough to be the best in decades but they let the hosts back into the game and nearly threw it away.

Two factors led to Munster's purple patch: the first was the Munster attack on the Leinster scrum near the end of the first half and the second was the introduction of Niall Scannell.

Both factors meant the Munster lineout improved and the Leinster scrum declined. This led to the hostile home crowd support and Leinster froze for 20 minutes.

The Connacht game on the other hand should have been more straightforward at home but the Westerners were coming off the back of a sweet home victory to Ulster so their tails were up.

Leinster worked hard against the wind to build up the a lead at half time and the smart money would have been on this trajectory to continue; unfortunately, this was not the case and the Blues struggled to dominate, even when they had the wind at their back.

There were some fine individual performances from Max Deegan, Seán Cronin and James Lowe but Leinster were not the cohesive unit that Connacht were and nearly let the game slip in the last quarter.

There will be an expected win against Ulster at home this weekend and I say this with full respect to Les Kiss. However, they are still feeling the vacuum left by the years of South African journeymen in their squad, apart from Ruan Pienaar.

They are only now beginning to regroup and see the benefit of the home-grown players, albeit not home province players.

With deserved expectation heavily sitting on Leinster for the play-offs, it is hard to not get excited about the possibilities this season.

Leinster are a far better side this season than the last two years but when it comes to the play-offs there is still some tightening up to do.

While satisfied with the last two victories, they have more to be gained by analysing further the Munster and Connacht games with a view to Europe.

The interprovincial games including this weekend, are the best identifier of weak points in your performance than any other game in both competitions. When Munster had their purple patch in Thomond Park, they retained possession. Leinster could not get their hands on the ball and were redundant for 20 minutes until Jordan Larmour's individual try.

failings And against Connacht, Leinster did not play smart rugby with the wind behind them. Both of these mini failings were evident in the most important play-off game against Clermont last season.

Once again Leinster find themselves managing their vast resources in selection. On one hand, we lament Jordi Murphy's loss to Ulster next season, we rejoice in Dan Leavy's recent performances at both six and seven.

With Seán O'Brien and Rhys Ruddock injured, it leaves a harsh back-row debate for another day but right across the board there is competition for places, barring injury.

Leinster once again are the envy of other provinces with their strength in depth. This is a squad that will keep them in Europe but it's a performing team that will be needed to win it.

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