Tuesday 21 November 2017

Leinster young guns have finally found voice as exam time looms

Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

All this week in UCD they scurry over and back the short trek to the RDS for summer exams; from Pliny to Pythagoras, Politics to Philosophy, testing times will unveil ruthless results.

Abutting the very same campus, Leinster Rugby HQ; from within here, too, many are furiously swotting as they await their particular pair of examinations, beginning with tomorrow's Guinness PRO12 championship semi-final against Scarlets.

The hurdle of a European semi-final has already claimed them this term; another defeat at the penultimate stage would arguably attain merely second-class honours for their efforts.

Leinster, brimful of Irish internationals and their five Lions, demand much, much more.

Offered the chance of highest honours last term, this squad barely got beyond writing their name upon the top of the script in their Edinburgh final, their fate determined long before the invigilation was completed.

Twelve months on, Leinster are much more possessed of the wit and invention to address any puzzle presented to them.

And, crucially, they are no longer reliant upon the same set of senior players to answer them.

"When you've got a lot of senior players in the squad, who are Irish internationals, inevitably, because of the level of experience, young players tend to look towards them," says Stuart Lancaster.

He had heard so much about Leinster's young guns before his arrival last summer - but now he wanted to hear much more from them.

"What I try to do during the course of the year is to explain to the younger players that they've got an equal voice in meetings to grow their voice and their opinions.

"So that when Johnny Sexton isn't there, Joey Carbery or Ross Byrne or Garry Ringrose has the confidence to speak. It has taken time actually because the natural inclination of the younger players is to wait."

A comfortable hierarchy had developed; problem is, when a team takes to the field, it should feel utterly democratic.

"At international level and the top club level you don't get put under less pressure when you take the field," Lancaster (left) agrees.

"Everyone is the same, regardless of the level of experience. The opposition just judges you as one team.

"The younger players have to understand that you are treated as a senior player when you are on the field and you therefore have to behave as a senior player.

"It is just changing their mentality but I think they have got the message and I can certainly see it coming through the team now because the reality is, a lot of the time, senior players haven't been available.

"So trying to grow that new group of future leaders is critical for the team."

Leadership is measured by value, not volume.

"Players can bark and shout all they want on the pitch," says Ringrose, one of those identified by Lancaster. "But it is about being clear and concise with communication.

"I work with the coaching staff and other players to try to be the best version of that I can be myself.

"A few guys have retired or moved on so a lot of young guys have been given opportunities this year which has been incredible.

"We are all encouraged to throw our two cents in and try to improve and better the team. There's no point sitting back and being timid, waiting for someone else to take charge.

"We're all encouraged to do what we can do to better the side. A lot of us aren't as established as some of the others but, regardless, we have to grab the opportunity with both hands and dive head first into it."

Or, as Lancaster adds appropriately as we approach exam-time, "You have to have done your homework."

Irish Independent

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