Thursday 5 December 2019

Leinster cannot afford a dip in form against Glasgow as Northampton tests loom

Robbie Henshaw wants to perform after a disappointing World Cup
Robbie Henshaw wants to perform after a disappointing World Cup

Victor Costello

In hindsight, the game of the weekend from a fan's point of view was the Munster v Racing tussle.

It's curious how Irish rugby has evolved where a win away in France against the French league leaders is dismissed as unexciting and below-par.

With the level of expectation high, this is the norm when watching Leinster these days. In the first few minutes of their away game against Lyon last Saturday, Leinster soaked up enough pressure to signal the start of a long day in the office.

To Leinster's credit, rightly or wrongly, they stuck at it, even if a kicking game would have been more productive. They beat Lyon on their home patch while essentially showing them the exit door for Europe.

Man of the match Johnny Sexton showed no signs of lethargy on a wet but familiar ground and his hunger was matched by his team-mates in an effective display.

Leinster can be almost guaranteed a five-pointer in the return game next January but, for now, they can turn their attentions to the PRO14 after a successful start to the Champions Cup.

Dipped It can be argued that the overall performance dipped in the last two weeks but the competition got tougher.

However, Leinster have very few injuries from both games and certainly are the best-placed European club after round two.

Leinster imposed their game in the pack against a dominant Lyon side; under the conditions it might have been pertinent to play to the corners but the Blues were happy to do it the hard way.

They exercised their offloading game rather than play for territory and build themselves into the game.

Lyon looked very laboured and one-dimensional for a side so successful in their home competition but that's a testament to the quality of the opposition they were up against.

The French side, who are relatively new to this competition, came up against a Leinster side who are not only seasoned campaigners but also seasoned winners of this cup in all of its formats.

Jordan Larmour's yellow card in another game and at another venue could have been more costly but Leinster played intelligently when restricted to 14 men by slowing down the game and controlling the pace.

This is not a mitigating factor for Larmour but he will get his due punishment in training this week.

Leinster's dip in discipline will be addressed and it is clear the international players' return has not been as smooth as it could have been.

This generalisation would be unfair on some individuals, particularly if you look at the performances of Sexton, Garry Ringrose and Rhys Ruddock, but it is only natural for players to struggle in getting used to different structures and calls.

It's up to the management to make this transition as quick and efficient as possible.

The internationals have been over-enthusiastic and can be forgiven for this eagerness as they try to stamp their mark on a winning side.

Robbie Henshaw is another example of a player who, like most of the internationals, felt they've underperformed in the World Cup and want to perform at club level. This hunger is spilling over currently but will work well for the next few games with the emergence of some great players already this season.

Once again, Rónan Kelleher's performance was notable; although he was less effective carrying ball in the loose, his work-rate around the pitch is of a high standard.

What was impressive is how one wayward lineout throw did not affect the rest of his lineouts in the game. It has been a trend at Irish level that when lineout accuracy fails at the set-piece it continues to decline for the rest of the game.

Not so with Kelleher as he was able to put it behind him and continue his normal accuracy. This level of maturity at a young age will promote him to the national side this season and if he was available this time last year, he would most likely be there already.

More notable performances at this level were from the back-row unit. We are used to seeing performances from Ruddock and Josh van der Flier, but Max Deegan's all-round display at this level was quite impressive.

Styles The battle for the No 8 position will be an interesting side note throughout this season with both Deegan and Caelan Doris having different styles.

Deegan, being more of an all-rounder, has to be careful his talent at six and eight doesn't work against him as this flexibility will warrant his selection more than most but maybe not at his desired position.

Doris, on the other hand, is more of a powerhouse ball-carrier.

Both can be effective together in the back-row so their development this season will be intriguing.

The timing of tomorrow's away game to Glasgow could not be better - it will be a tough test for Leinster who cannot afford a dip in performance.

With back-to-back games to follow against Northampton in Europe, Leinster management can afford to tinker with selection prior to nailing down their first XV for the following week.

Competition for places is high but with the attrition rate likely to climb over the coming weeks Leinster are well placed to endure and survive.

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