Sunday 19 January 2020

Pain of missing out on European action will inspire Blues to finish season on a high

Sean Cronin's power play is up there with the best in the world (SPORTSFILE)
Sean Cronin's power play is up there with the best in the world (SPORTSFILE)

Victor Costello

When Leo Cullen looks back on this season, he will wonder, during all his years involved with Leinster, when was the last time he was involved in such inconsistency and turmoil.

There has been enough finger-pointing and opinion around to fill a year's worth of paper, but in the world of professional sport, the only thing that really matters is results.

Some of the performances this year have tested even the most hardened supporter but if you can beat a hungry, backs against the wall Munster side, tradition will tell you that you're almost there.

Very few of these provincial clashes have lived up to their hype when it comes to crowd pleasing attributes but when it comes to the players on the pitch, the pressure is ferocious and they live with the success or failure until the next time.

For 80 minutes the cup or league doesn't matter, and for Leinster, the added bonus of moving up to top of the table will be a huge boost.

After an imperfect season, Leinster have reached the top of the league as we come to the business end of the season. One could look at this as a reflection of the league itself or else look at the last few games that have resulted in a lot of home games lost when normally this advantage would hold for the hosts.

Leinster's rivals Connacht losing to Ulster on Friday night will stir Cullen's side to beat Ulster in a couple of weeks' time.

Ultimately it has been Leinster's sizeable squad that has moved them up to, the top of the pile and picking from that squad over the next month or so will be crucial to that all-important end result.

The game against Munster will be as hard as it gets and Leinster couldn't have been better placed in this season. The intensity and pressure at the breakdown will not be seen for the rest of the season and the toll taken on the their bodies will warrant a week off this weekend.

When you dust yourself off after one of these derbies, very few fixtures warrant a sweat.

That being said, remaining focused and addressing the deficiencies last weekend will be important before the next game against Edinburgh.

Leinster's scrum acquitted itself well, and why wouldn't it with the amount of caps and experience in the front-row?

At ruck and maul time it was the same, and the work rate of the back-row was telling against a Munster pack that has history and tradition to live up to.

Rhys Ruddock and Jamie Heaslip complement each other well and their impact at the breakdown consistently causes problems for the opposition.

However the underlying problem in Irish and Leinster rugby has been the lineout. Sweeping this issue under the carpet is temporarily fine and there is no doubt that it can be argued that Rory Best and Sean Cronin more than make up for it around the pitch.

In Cronin's case, his power play is up there with the best in the world. But Leinster lost four lineouts in crucial positions last weekend and with the likes of Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs, Ruddock and Heaslip as options, this is unforgivable.


Leinster have worked hard to maintain a consistent standard through the various distractions this season and with players back from international duty, coupled with the injury returns and the developing young players, there will be a real energy about the squad to finish this season well.

As the excitement builds over the next while, Leinster will need to lament this weekend's European action and address it head on in order to prove that this season's stutter was just a blip for the greater good in seasons to come.

This weekend should be used for reflection to make sure that the inner foes of wayward lineouts and indiscipline are a thing of the past as these are the areas that may cost them silverware come the end of next month.

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