Wednesday 12 December 2018

Mental approach is nearly as important as physical side of game for Leinster

Fergus McFadden has rejuvenated his career. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Fergus McFadden has rejuvenated his career. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

And there it was - this season's game to forget.

Luckily most of the fan-base were too focused on the Ireland-Italy game to delve into Leinster's continued march towards European glory, but if they had been in Scotland, the defeat in Edinburgh might have dampened expectations.

Now and again nothing goes to plan and as much as you try and hope for the best it can all go wrong.

Without employing a team of sports psychologists, one can figure out that the flight over to this game wouldn't have been the most nerve-racking or anxiety-packed due to the nature of the opposition and Leinster's confidence, but there was an element of complacency in the performance.

No matter how scientific the game has become, it is almost impossible to beat a team that is hungrier than you.

In the current international environment you cannot blame players for having their attention elsewhere but in modern-day rugby you have to expect better performances.


Take Fergus McFadden for example; he is a player who has rejuvenated his career and is enjoying the spoils of international and provincial rugby.

Six days before he played against Edinburgh he was involved in a pile-on with Johnny Sexton in front of 80,000 people.

Roll on the following weekend and he's in a PRO14 dogfight against a below-par Edinburgh in their new home, which proved to be a tough assignment even for the seasoned pro he is.

Rugby hasn't changed that much over the last few decades; during these Six Nations periods there were always a couple of low-profile games.

The difficulty is seeing them as an opportunity instead of an inconvenience, especially because these games, if lost, have a history of coming back and biting you come the end of season.

The management will take positives from the defeat and one is that there are players getting game time that normally would not.

Granted, these players weren't part of a winning Leinster side but what doesn't kill you will make you stronger.

The two Scarlets games will give Leinster an idea of where they are right now.

After what has been a long and successful season so far, it is heading swiftly towards play-off time.

The loss last weekend would not have sat well with players or management and a flight back from Edinburgh on a Friday night of an international weekend shows the highs and lows of professional rugby.

But Leinster are back in the RDS tomorrow and this is where they can build back their confidence and momentum.

Winning in Europe is not easy - it's a long slog over a number of seasons to get to the final goal.

When you look back at the successful years, you see a world-class squad that did not become this unit overnight.

They won games because they had the right balance of physical skill, mental strength and desire, all of which are needed to win trophies.

Sooner or later the Leinster management will need to pick players to win games, and not to keep them interested or involved.

The reaction of the Edinburgh players at the final whistle showed their respect for Leinster and, conversely, the hurt the Leinster players felt afterwards will be something they won't want to feel again.

Scarlets have the same respect for Leinster, so much so that they completely revamped their game-plan for their semi-final win last season.

As the race for quarter-final qualification heats up Leinster have plenty of opportunities to prepare.

They have proved already this season that the day-to-day of the PRO14 is good enough to provide a platform for victory in Europe.

As the rate of attrition increases in the Six Nations, Leinster are better prepared then most but as the old adage goes; it's not just about physical preparation - the mental state and the top four inches need plenty of attention too.

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