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Leinster must strike the right balance before the Champions Cup returns

Stuart Lancaster will be key to Leinster’s success in the Champions Cup. Photo: Sportsfile
Stuart Lancaster will be key to Leinster’s success in the Champions Cup. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

This time of the season, after the November internationals, always causes mayhem in the availability of players to their clubs.

The emotional roller-coaster between selection and rejection for players can have guys returning to the PRO14 elated or deflated.

Last season's victory against the All Blacks and then running them close at home should have drawn a line in the sand where Irish rugby fans need to move in and understand that the World Cup is the main show in town with the Six Nations a close second.

With all three major teams from the southern hemisphere not hitting form two years into the World Cup cycle, it will be interesting to see how the top teams manage to peak come World Cup time. This is something Ireland need to adjust to.

Where the November internationals do matter is player selection and the reward and opportunity it gives those who have been performing consistently for their province.

Where the provinces suffer is the threat of injury and form after the internationals are over and the state of mind and body in which they return.

In Leinster's case they have the two most important games of the season back-to -back in the next couple of weeks with one game to prepare for it with their full deck available.

A sloppy trip to Glasgow and a rewarding victory at home to Dragons, with a nice break in between, sets the squad up nicely for the Italian job.

The trip to Treviso tomorrow is a great chance to earn five points but the top internationals will be given ample time to recover from their Ireland duties before one of their hardest games of the year, away to Exeter.

It is at this stage of the season the Leinster management need to make some crucial selection decisions.

Exeter are a good side with some impressive recent wins over Saracens, Harlequins and Wasps.

Exeter are at home to Bath this weekend and Leinster are away to Treviso, so the reality is there is no chance of Leo Cullen's side being adequately prepared for this game.

Going into the back-to-back games in the Champions Cup, you have to look beyond the next game.

So no matter what happens away to Exeter, Leinster will have to win the return game at the Aviva Stadium.

I am not saying that Leinster cannot win away to Exeter but they have a choice in selection to trust in combinations that have been working together in recent matches and training or play their internationals who have been involved in different combination and systems over the past four weeks with Ireland.

A balance of somewhere in between should do and the emergence of the recovered Josh van der flier and Garry Ringrose should bolster the 23 significantly.

There is also the opinion that the constant Premiership games will add to the fatigue for Exeter but in my opinion English sides thrive on the repetitive nature of constant rugby.

Still, year in year out this is a good problem for Leinster to have as the depth of the squad poses problems in selection.

The show has been kept on the road and this weekend's game against Treviso will not cause any problems to Cullen's men.

HUNGER

Jordan Larmour's performance and Ross Byrne's man-of-the-match award shows the hunger of the youth in the province.

This coupled with Rob Kearney's outstanding international displays and also the plethora of form players in between should ensure that Leinster's mix of youth and experience will give them the ability to cope with the two extremes of rugby in the coming weeks.

The ace up Leinster's sleeve for this period will be Stuart Lancaster.

Lancaster was embedded in the English system before he landed the top English job and will have a depth of knowledge on Exeter and without demeaning the Treviso trip, this will allow Leinster to plan for these games weeks in advance, a luxury Exeter will not be afforded.

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