Friday 20 April 2018

Leinster must develop arrogant streak if they are to end their trophy drought

Jonathan Sexton crossing codes during training. Photo: Sportsfile
Jonathan Sexton crossing codes during training. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Hitting the ground running at the start of the season gives a squad great confidence for the upcoming games, while at the same time justifying the work that was done over the summer.

A trip to Rodney Parade for the first game isn't exactly a reintroduction to the heights of the Guinness PRO14 but like all Welsh away games, it could have ended up as a banana skin.

It's not ideal to be down your first-choice centre partnership but to have Isa Nacewa stepping in last weekend showed the versatility of the Leinster captain.

This selection alone should prove to the management that they will have to select a team that can have their best players closer to the action at all times.

Nobody can deny that Leinster have a squad to conquer both Europe and the PRO14, not just with the talent but strength and depth in all positions that will be robust enough to ride out the normal attrition from the November international series and the Six Nations.

Before Leinster hit the road in South Africa, they will have a much-coveted home game tonight against the Cardiff Blues.

The Blues traditionally have been a decent side but this season Leinster need to focus on their end game while having the confidence in the day-to-day business of the PRO14.

In past seasons the disruptions both on the pitch and off the pitch caused Leinster to look at the season in phases and one match at a time. This season home matches in the RDS and the Aviva should be taken as a given and Leinster need to start bringing a sporting arrogance to their game.

With all the talk of the inaugural South African trip and how it fits into the rugby schedule, this will be a great opportunity for Leo Cullen's men to use it as a points tallying training camp.

After presuming two successful opening games in the PRO14, they will have to pick a 28-man squad to see them through. This trimmed-down squad will benefit from an international mini tour with the sun at their backs.

Leinster will, of course, be good enough to overcome the South African minnows but rarely does a management have the undivided time of their players over a 10-day period. South Africa can be a hostile rugby nation and the experience the younger players will get will be invaluable for later in the campaign.

Cardiff Blues will be better than the Dragons last week but still should not cause any trouble for Leinster. Home games quite often allow for mini celebrations and Devin Toner's 200th cap is certainly one hell of a milestone for the 12-season veteran.

Not many players have adapted to the changing requests of both professional rugby and the coaches that go with it than the towering Leinster lock.

This season's trimmed-down version has proven once again that Toner is by no means finished nor put out by the up-and-coming players or imports.

When Devin Toner started he was an ideal lineout ace and as his career progressed he became both a hard-working set-piece and loose forward as well as being a vital ball-carrier for both Ireland and Leinster.

Progression The next stage of his progression will see him end up as a leader and mentor to the youthful incumbents.

It would be wrong to take the PRO14 for granted this year but there's definitely a feeling that Leinster need to look within themselves.

Players like Max Deegan and Jordan Larmour will be pushing hard for regular places and it will be necessary for the returning internationals to get back to focusing on the trophy collection that put them in the regular international scene in the first place.

Last weekend Rob Kearney showed the pace, aggression and skill level of the superior player that he is. Jamie Heaslip, Seán O'Brien and Tadhg Furlong will follow and then it will be up to the management to guide this squad to victory.

This evening will be a welcome return to the RDS for both the team and supporters as it has been a long four months getting back on the horse but we all know by now that there is always pain on the road to victory.

Irish Independent

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