Friday 23 February 2018

Leinster must use next few weeks to make up ground

Dominic Ryan will be among those who will be crucial to keeping Leinster near the top of the league in the coming weeks
Dominic Ryan will be among those who will be crucial to keeping Leinster near the top of the league in the coming weeks

Victor Costello

There has been a long-running debate in professional rugby between the various international organisations and IRFU as to the structure of the season.

It has often been joked about by players that the creation of another month or two to facilitate the various competitions and their structures would work well.

Normally teams can navigate through a season with efficient planning and preparation to be at peak performance while keeping player welfare, crowd attendance, success and recruitment in mind.

Entrance and exit from a World Cup year always proves difficult in these areas.

This season has been the first for a long time where Leinster have lacked a consistency in performance that would be a minimum requirement for success in European rugby, yet there has been a dogged belief behind closed doors which has led to an alternate route to the quarter-finals compared to before.

Ireland's Six Nations campaign will start this weekend and the Leinster representation is as strong as ever. Meeting up in Carton House with a tough European campaign under your belt, injuries aside, gives you confidence in taking on other nations.

Different training sessions with different voices give players a fresh approach to a different campaign which in itself maintains focus.

Back in Leinster, the contrast of weeks of pressure and expectation, and the rollercoaster ride of the European pool games, changes to weeks of review and preparation leading to what's ahead.

Backdrop

This preparation will take place with constantly changing resources depending on who is required for international duty.

The next Pro12 game will take place next Sunday against the backdrop of the Ireland v France game in the Aviva Stadium.

Maintaining focus throughout this disruption is the priority for Leinster. Bath, Leinster's next opponents in the Champions cup, will have their own representation in England squads but the pressure of their domestic game will give them a level of urgency and attention that will not be required over the coming weeks at the RDS.

It is almost impossible to pick a squad with the international disruption but the early-season consistent performers like Darragh Fanning, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath and Dominic Ryan are likely to be the front-runners in keeping Leinster near the top of the league.

From their point of view, consistent performance may not lead to international recognition immediately but the World Cup squad will be a target with many more international games to come this season. Sometimes it's the low-key games that are watched more than the ones in the limelight.

Leo Cullen, Leinster's forwards coach, spent many years combining his selection on Irish teams and squads with captaining his province.

In times of Irish selection with plenty of competition for places in the back five of the scrum, his ability to keep focused on Leinster's ambitions in the European Cup showed the level of professionalism that was required to lead his team to success.

This ability later allowed him to do same from the sideline as a Leinster coach.

Managing the expectations and furthermore the disappointments of players involved around this time is a skill that is passed down through generations.

While other teams in Europe have to manage the impact of repetitive rugby every weekend throughout the season, Leinster need to turn this time into a period in the season where they consistently make ground on their rivals.

Irish Independent

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