Tuesday 17 September 2019

Leinster have the strength in depth to maintain momentum in coming weeks

Senior coach Stuart Lancaster watches on during Leinster training in UCD ahead of tonight’s clash against Edinburgh. Photo: Sportsfile
Senior coach Stuart Lancaster watches on during Leinster training in UCD ahead of tonight’s clash against Edinburgh. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Just like midway through a long January, it feels like it has been a long season so far, with a lot more to go.

Just a short time ago the expectation was that Leinster will win the Champions Cup, before the focus shifted to the Six Nations.

Edinburgh away, in the past, was always tricky no matter what the competition, league or cup, and to add to that, Murrayfield in the winter was daunting either full or empty.

Myreside, Edinburgh's new home, is the opposite. It is a more intimate venue with a capacity of 6,000. It would be Leinster equivalent of Donnybrook Stadium.

Back in the day, Leinster were reluctant to move to Lansdowne Road for the 'big' games as it led to a dilution of the crowd experience and noise.

Edinburgh have done the opposite and tried to reduce gaps and empty seats and give their club more of an identity and foundation for the future.


The Six Nations running parallel to the league has never sat well on Irish shores, the English and French league players have always been more blinkered to their day-to-day business more than the Irish players.

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With the player pool being smaller in Ireland it took a decade of seasons for the Irish players to segregate the two and this week alone would have thrown up plenty of emotions with the Irish team's dramatic victory in Paris.

Players can feel so near one day and so far the next and there are Leinster players heading to Edinburgh tonight that will be part of the Six Nations, and indeed the European play-offs this season, but meanwhile need to keep the Guinness PRO14 ticking over.

Player management at this time is key; the disruption from possible call-ups to the national squad won't dent Leinster's momentum too much but expectation and disappointment within the squad and their national ambitions will need to be managed.

Two weeks in modern rugby will feel like the off season; players will be looking forward to getting their hands on the ball after some time off and intense training but will also feel the value of this mini break.

When the science of sport became prevalent in rugby some time back, it took a while for professional coaches to understand that rest periods were almost as valuable as training periods.

Tonight's game against Edinburgh will be in an unknown environment and will throw up challenges on a cold Friday night in Scotland, but Leinster's biggest challenge will come from within and the pressure will be on the mix of experienced and inexperienced players to keep consistency and momentum in the camp.

Edinburgh away will not cause problems for a youthful Leinster. This time last season they were a two-tier team.

This year they are a three-tier squad, even with an injury list, and Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster's side have the strength and depth to win on the road in a low-key fixture.

And while these fixtures are indeed low-key they have value to Leinster's end game this season as do the players involved.

Their mistakes last season reverting to the default XV cost them dearly in the semi-finals of both campaigns.

The management will have to keep an open mind in selection over the coming period and avoid the distraction of the success or failure of the national squad.

The hunger of those players yearning to be involved in the national squad will override the fatigue of those who have been.

There is no easy route to European success. With Saracens on the horizon many would think that the draw worked out unfavourably for the unbeaten Leinster side, but I believe if they had gotten through the Clermont game last season, they were the only team that would have been able to beat Saracens.

With an impressive back-to-back series against Exeter, an away win in France and an away win in Thomond in the bag, it seems most of Leinster's hard yards are behind them. If they can maintain this form, it's Saracens and the rest of Europe that will have to fret.

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