Monday 20 May 2019

Leinster must back up last week's statement to take another big step

Tadhg Furlong delivered a man of the match performance against Exeter last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile
Tadhg Furlong delivered a man of the match performance against Exeter last Sunday. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

In one weekend, Irish rugby benefited more than it did from the whole international series in November.

The complete destruction of all seven Premiership clubs was compounded by the obliteration of an Exeter side that had not been beaten at home in 12 months.

With an away Six Nations game in Twickenham next year, players will have to take solace in their performances against the English club sides.

Leinster, in particular, made a statement last Sunday that they will need to back up at the Aviva tomorrow.

This return game needs to be another statement of Leinster's intent for their European ambitions this season.

In most games this season, Leo Cullen's side have been slow to start, but they hit the ground running this time. Their performance in the opening 20 minutes saw them have 90pc possession and two fine tries disallowed.

If there was no TMO, both would have been tries as the skill and momentum of both warranted common sense rather then technology.

Still, Leinster did not succumb to these setbacks and kept the pressure on in both attack and defence.

Their state of mind last Sunday proved that where discipline was a problem earlier in the season, it is no longer.

The body language of the players portrayed the perfect ingredients for European rugby: fear of losing, hunger, intensity and confidence.

Exeter were a typical English side that could not adapt to the fact that things were not going their way and the Sandy Park factor had not deterred the visitors.

There is no doubting Exeter will be a better side tomorrow in the Aviva; they pride themselves in being collectively a great side, but the performance of their opponents has ensured that they have stepped up a level since their last group of European games.

As the scoreboard was not reflecting the dominance Leinster had for a large part of the game, there was always a possibility of a comeback but after they confidently defended their own line twice in succession, the mental battle was won by the away team and Exeter had little else to offer.

Individually, Leinster performed well. Man of the match Tadhg Furlong will soon be a World Player of the Year and he epitomises this new generation of players.

For many, the apprenticeships are over and there is a nice level of determination and belief building into this squad's overall psyche.

Ironically, as this squad has grown the more seasoned internationals, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden, were leading the charge in the high performance stakes.

Apart from their long-term talent, their leadership has an important role in this team. Seán Cronin was the same.

An unfortunate high tackle could have been costly after the hard work was done in catching Jack Nowell, but these are the points that the management are planning on improving this weekend.

Leinster knew they needed to strangle this Exeter side to diminish any chance of their revival and rarely during the game did they take their foot off the Chiefs' head.

Comfort

With the back-to-back series there will always be a sense of comfort with the return game at home. Leinster have been down this road before with losing to Northampton (2013) on the return fixture and you can be sure this will be on the minds of the players this week.

After a victory like last weekend, there will be a physical and mental toll on the squad but the spirits will be high with the opportunity to repeat the performance in front of the home crowd.

Even though it is quite clear that Premiership Rugby is not what the RFU makes it out to be, the Exeter Chiefs will not be fazed by an away game in the Aviva.

Last week's game will be money in the bank for Leinster, the defensive period alone is enough to develop a band of brothers.

There is reason to get excited as there are signs of a cup-winning side in this group and within the camp there will be players going down this road with the belief of their colleagues who have reached the end before.

Irish Independent

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