Friday 19 January 2018

Taking control from the off is key to Leinster's bid for success this season

Isa Nacewa tackles Cardiff’s Alex Cuthbert for which he was shown a yellow card last week. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Isa Nacewa tackles Cardiff’s Alex Cuthbert for which he was shown a yellow card last week. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

It won't be until the end of the season until we can determine if the South African influence in the newly named PRO14 is a success.

But after finishing up the first two games with maximum points, Leinster - along with Zebre - are the first PRO14 clubs to descend into the Southern Hemisphere and break into this unknown territory.

What was only fantasy in the summer has quickly become a reality in autumn.

There is no doubt that both the Cheetahs and Kings will be more comfortable on their home territory and will take scalps down there throughout this campaign. For Leo Cullen and his management, the goal is to make sure that Leinster are not the first casualty.

South Africa is a proud rugby nation but also a hostile environment for travelling sides and their supporters.

It would be easy for complacency to set in with the results of the recent travelling South African teams but the Leinster squad have an ideal chance to grab this opportunity and set a standard for other touring clubs throughout the season. Two out of two with maximum points on tour in South Africa has got to be the priority.

Finalising a squad of 28 players would have been quite difficult for Cullen with the strength and depth Leinster continue to enjoy, even despite a growing injury list - although yesterday's visa confusion for Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park are unnecessary headaches.

The selection process would have been two fold; pick a squad to win the series but also a squad that address the core faults that caused the defeats last season.

The Lions series and Ireland's summer tour would have prevented a proper debrief after last season's semi-final defeat.

Looking back at last week's game, the scoreline will look good against Cardiff, and there is no doubt that in the second half the players were enjoying their romp around the RDS, but when it comes to next May, the first 30 minutes of the game are likely to decide the end result - and Leinster particularly need to stamp their authority from the off at home.

Granted their cause wasn't helped with their captain Isa Nacewa in the sin bin but this was a time for leaders to step up and take control of a game that was drifting along

The first half was a dull affair but 10 of those minutes when Nacewa was in the sin bin were an ideal way to play when down to 14 men.

There is a frustration creeping into Nacewa's game and I would like to think that it is not due to other players depending on him too much. Luke McGrath's work rate around the pitch shows that he's a future captain for both club and country.

Individually Leinster are playing to their prime. Jack Conan's man-of-the-match display speaks volumes for his summer work and personal ambitions.

Rory O'Loughlin's hunger up the middle keeps the opposition defence on their toes while giving Ross Byrne plenty of options .

Cian Healy's destruction of his opposite number is something that we have gotten used to over the last 11 seasons and Adam Byrne's progress and seen him quickly become a crowd favourite.

Spark

That said, Leinster need to start looking at their sub-units and set-pieces to activate and spark their game-plan. This trip will be ideal for concentrating on these areas away from the normal average week in the PRO14

James Tracy needs to take control and responsibility for the lineouts. There are too many options for his throw-in to allow for mis-calls or crooked throws. The same goes for the scrums.

Luke McGrath gels with both his back-row and back line like an experienced but he deserves better service from his forwards.

Having rock solid set-pieces will ensure that Leinster can dictate the pace of the game and with the amount of players they have playing in form, the management need to spend time working on areas to grab control of the game when neither side has it.

Irish Independent

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