Leinster fired up for Ulster battle
O'Connor backs players to rise to mental challenge for first test after Toulon defeat
Matt O'Connor has defended his decision to rest Leinster's front line players for the Pro12 defeat against the Dragons two weeks ago.
The defending champions travel to Belfast this evening knowing that they must win to keep alive their slim hopes of making the play-offs, and the Australian coach admitted that the games against Toulon and Ulster were very much in the front of his mind when he made his team selection against the Dragons.
Leinster suffered defeats home and away against the Welsh side, which have put a major dent in their hopes of winning a third consecutive league title, but O'Connor is hoping that his players will be less physically drained having not played in Newport a fortnight ago.
"When we selected the Dragons team, Toulon and Ulster were on our mind," O'Connor conceded.
"Toulon was going to be very, very important but at least there is an element of freshness there and an element of continuity. We will be looking to take some pay-off this week.
"We don't have that luxury (of resting key players) any more. We've got to go up there and win. We've got to back ourselves to pick the best 15, the best 23 to do that.
"Once the team is announced, the responsibility is on those professionals, who have been in and around the game for a long time, to make sure they do what is required to make sure they get themselves up for a performance."
After 100 minutes of a slog against Toulon last Sunday, the short turnaround for this evening's crucial came has meant that there has been little time to dwell on their European exit.
O'Connor is anticipating a "physical battle" in Kingspan Park but he feels that the mental aspect will be the toughest challenge for his players as he looks to ensure that they are fully focused on the task at hand and not dwelling on past defeats.
"The physical bit is probably not as significant as the mental bit," O'Connor said.
"There was 100 minutes of pretty intense stuff but there wasn't massive passages or huge ball in play due to the conditions and the style of play that it was.
"It's going to be a pretty physical battle this week so the freshness will be pretty important.
"Mentally is the real challenge - making sure we take the positives out of the good bits that were on display on Sunday and try make sure we are a little bit better in those key moments that probably cost us the result."
O'Connor also dismissed the notion that it was a lack of game-management that ultimately cost Leinster a place in the Champions Cup final.
Ian Madigan's long, floating pass was intercepted by Bryan Habana in extra-time to seal Toulon's place in the decider but O'Connor defended his player's decision to attempt the audacious pass.
"I think if you do the process a little bit better - it wasn't about passing the ball or not passing the ball, but there are things in and around how we approached that as a team," he said.
"There is a little bit of growth in relation to the awareness of those dynamics as well.
"It's probably not a game-management issue in its purest form. It's a decision relative to the dynamics that are there.
"It's a dynamic that you see a lot from turnovers and you see a lot in relation to what wingers will do when they're presented with that space.
"It's probably not a management issue. It's more of a training and a decision-making scenario."