Saturday 23 March 2019

Leinster must get rid of bad habits to add cohesion they desperately need for run-in

Max Deegan, being tackled by Zebre’s Danilo Fischetti and Samuele Ortis, has shown improvement. Photo: Sportsfile
Max Deegan, being tackled by Zebre’s Danilo Fischetti and Samuele Ortis, has shown improvement. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Leinster's outing against Zebre provided maximum points away from home. This is the statement that matters and will only matter for this season.

This was always expected of course, with the league minnows often giving up bonus points at vital stages of the campaign.

Like most games this one did not pass without its problems, but to be fair to Leinster they hit the ground running.

This proved that enough care and attention was given to this game in training in the down week of the Six Nations.

Over the past few seasons, Leinster's concentration lapses have resulted in a slow first 20 minutes so this time, they cannot be faulted,

However, after that, they flattered to deceive and the following purple patch by Zebre made for a longer day than normal.

Over the break Leinster have picked up some bad habits. The defensive structure has fallen apart as has the communication and belief in each other.

Conor O'Brien's efforts in attack are as impressive as they are destructive but in time he needs to find his support players to make sure his breaks matter.

Max Deegan's early try showed how not only can he adapt to all positions in the back-row, but that his leadership qualities are coming through now at senior level.

Hunger

The ambition and hunger of the young players is obvious but, as always, they need to slot in to the structures that allow the vast Leinster squad to keep momentum in their performances.

When playing away to the likes of Zebre there is pressure to score often and early.

This happened initially which put pressure on Leinster to keep it up and individually players will always want to be part of the scoreboard ascension.

This is when Leo Cullen's men got caught out. With so much emphasis on attack, they forgot how to defend.

With the attrition rate high in Irish rugby at the moment, and the high turnover at Leinster due to the international drain, it is understandable that the constant rotation of players would cause this blip in structure.

Luckily this an area that has been highlighted early with a win away from home and not with a loss at a crucial stage of the competition.

With the play-offs at the end of the season being imperative, the management know that now is the time for ironing out any issues that develop in time for the higher-profile games.

Just like the Irish management, Leinster are all too aware of the need for unity within a large squad of world-class players. It is paramount to success in a cup campaign at any level or stage.

It's a bitter pill to swallow allowing Zebre to have such freedom. This was a time to consolidate and change the focus of attack.

Scott Fardy, as captain, managed to get this across to his players but the implementation took a while.

When things aren't going to plan in a game like this, European and Six Nations dreams seem further away.

Jack McGrath's body language under the posts after Zebre's second try proved that it was not a place he wanted to be and his performance showed this .

As a recently over-worked international player of his stature, these are the games you need to lead the youth with your experience and prove to all around you that every time you put on a Leinster shirt it matters to you, your career, and the club.

Sometimes this can be at home but sometimes you can find yourself in dark corners of Europe while your international colleagues live it up in the bosom of Irish rugby in Carton House.

This is the test of the modern professional Irish international - a test that the likes of Ross Byrne, David Kearney and Rory O'Loughlin passed with their performances.

With player management to the fore this week, the game against the Kings tonight is one of those where the score will be less important than the performance.

Performance

Leinster have to remain consistent in their performance and ambitions this season and solid wins at home over the next two weeks will lead them nicely into the Edinburgh and Ulster games.

Although some of the injuries are frustrating from an Irish point of view it is great that the likes of Rhys Ruddock and Dan Leavy look likely to be back for Leinster at the business end of the season.

Both would have had an integral role in the Irish set-up and from a selfish point of view their rehab will be widely welcomed for club first and then country.

There is no doubt with Leinster the intent is there but the precision is not.

Individually, there have been some good performances but as a team they need cohesion.

For those players who dip their heads through this period, the cost will be more than just their own places but also the selection of those around them.

Leinster have proven over the years the value of the PRO14 for European success - this season will be no different except with the World Cup year upon us, the rewards will be even greater.

Irish Independent

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