Monday 23 April 2018

Leinster look like the real deal, but now they must go and prove that they are

Andrew Porter, centre, of Leinster is congratulated by teammates Sean Cronin, left, and Jack McGrath after playing an integral part in his side's fourth try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Ph
Andrew Porter, centre, of Leinster is congratulated by teammates Sean Cronin, left, and Jack McGrath after playing an integral part in his side's fourth try during the Guinness PRO14 Round 13 match between Leinster and Ulster at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Ph

Victor Costello

A clean sweep of the provincial series could not have looked any better.

With opposition players knowing each other well and pressure for Irish places, the derbies can sometimes be drab affairs.

Under normal circumstances it would be hard for fans to decide after last week's victory; were Leinster that good or were Ulster that bad?

The fact is Leinster are that good and one only has to reference the back-to-back Exeter games to find recent justification of this statement.

As the focus turns to the Champions Cup, there is no doubt that expectations are climbing for a European triumph. Already various permutations are being discussed and the variety of outcomes remain the same.

If Leinster are to win the Champions Cup they will probably have to do it the hard way.

But as we know and have learned, it has to be one game at a time. Nevertheless, the management need to start planning for the play-offs.

This is where they went wrong last year. The coaches halted the momentum of the PRO14 by switching back to their perceived best XV. This had a catastrophic outcome domestically and in Europe.

Leinster were on the back foot in both semi-finals and were chasing the game from the off. This season they will have to be smart in selection by taking risks and backing players and units on form.

Ulster's performance in the RDS was the worst I have seen from them in decades. It was no more than a training run. An autograph session for the younger fans would have been more beneficial.

Leinster are a professional side beyond their years but experience will tell that the good times roll with hard work in tandem.

Glasgow will provide a sterner challenge but the home win will be expected and enjoyed.

Montpellier away next week will provide a taste of what is to come later.

The PRO14 has always been the bedrock of every one of Leinster's European victories and this year will be no different.

They have crossed many psychological barriers over the past few seasons but this year beating Exeter twice between PRO14 duties proves that the bread-and-butter games are vital to the overall success of the provinces.

Leinster must understand that while the PRO14 allows player flexibility, the Champions Cup does not.

Moments can be picked from games that would make a great collage for the end-of-season awards dinner.

Jordan Larmour's try against Munster comes to mind but Andrew Porter's show of strength against Ulster is more proof of the strength and depth.

Let's not forget we are still only halfway through the season but it is time to take stock.

This time last year, Leinster seemed to be fire-fighting with the level of disruption from both the Irish success in November and the player drain to the national squad.

This season, they are ahead of the game. The recent news on Garry Ringrose is devastating, however it looks like he will be back when Leinster need him most.

However, they can certainly carry on until Ringrose will be required when it matters most.

With the youth pushing boundaries in their performances, it is comforting to see the experienced players performing too.

In my mind, Rob Kearney is secure for Ireland and Leinster, while Fergus McFadden's resurgence is particularly heart-warming.

His pride, passion and performances recently has been infectious throughout the squad.

With these senior players on form, the blend of youth and experience becomes the vital ingredient for European glory.

But as much as the younger players notice the ambition of the senior players, the elder statesmen have been around long enough to know that this squad have once again got what it takes to get back to the golden years of Leinster's European victories.

Subscribe to The Left Wing, Independent.ie's Rugby podcast, with Luke Fitzgerald and Will Slattery for the best discussion and analysis each week. From in depth interviews with some of Irish rugby's biggest stars to unmatched insights into the provinces and the national team, The Left Wing has all your rugby needs covered.

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