Monday 19 February 2018

McQuilkin wary of 'fired-up' Italians

Leinster's defence coach Kurt McQuilkin during squad training. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Leinster's defence coach Kurt McQuilkin during squad training. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

Declan Rooney

In the last five games between the sides, Leinster have only conceded 19 points to Zebre, but defence coach Kurt McQuilkin is expecting a much improved performance from the Italians on home soil this Sunday.

Just two weeks ago, Leinster put 52 points on Zebre without reply at the RDS, but last week the Parma-based side earned a try bonus point in defeat to Connacht.

Despite such a strong recent record against this weekend's opposition, Leinster are likely to lean on their improved defensive record under McQuilkin and attempt to grind down their hosts before cutting loose.

Currently in second place in the Pro12 standings, two points behind Pat Lam's side with a game in hand to come against Glasgow Warriors in three weeks' time, Leinster look good to claim at least a spot in the top four come the end of the season, but McQuilkin insists nothing can be taken for granted this weekend.

"They'll be fired up in front of their home crowd. It seems the coaches give them a little more scope when they're at home. They can read things and have a crack. We're expecting a pretty tough encounter," said McQuilkin.

"When we've seen them away, they play quite a conservative game and if things don't come off, they go into their shells. At home they tend to fling it around a bit more."

Last week's victory over Cardiff Blues was a huge result for Leo Cullen's side considering they were without so many Irish internationals and had their recent slip-up away to Dragons still fresh in their minds.

The return of Cian Healy and Mike Ross to full fitness, and the fact that summer signing Mick Kearney finally got to make his debut, bodes well for the remainder of the season.

"Cian, in particular, had a really strong game, and Rossy came on and did what he needed to do," said McQuilkin.

"For all the rugby Mick's missed and to come out first game back in a pretty tough encounter in Cardiff, we're really happy with the way that he pulled up and came through the game.

"It takes a lot of mental toughness to come through what he's come through. To see him running out on the track at the weekend was great."

The eight-try win over Zebre featured plenty of silky finishing and prowess in attack, but last week's one-point win was ground out thanks to a solid defensive display.

McQuilkin thinks it's those sort of results that can galvanise this young team, saying: "It can define a season without a doubt. To win in those conditions gives you a lot of confidence, but we can't get too carried away either.

"It's good to know that we can go to some pretty dark places and come out the other side of it.

"It just shows everyone that they can go to those places and come out with a positive result."

Irish Independent

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