Thursday 17 October 2019

Victor Costello: A positive performance this week will instil huge confidence for Toulon test

Gordon D'Arcy holds off Peter Stringer during their European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final, Leinster v Bath last weekend at the Aviva Stadium (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)
Gordon D'Arcy holds off Peter Stringer during their European Rugby Champions Cup Quarter-Final, Leinster v Bath last weekend at the Aviva Stadium (Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE)

Victor Costello

Jamie Heaslip's radio interview immediately after the game on Saturday evening was very honest and filled with emotion.

The obvious relief from the Bath onslaught minutes beforehand and the realisation of what is ahead was causing a flux in his mind. Heaslip was truthful about the Leinster performance and what it would take to beat Toulon.

The reality of being back in the blue jersey for him and his colleagues is that they have to work that bit harder to pull off the victories they enjoyed at international level.

Toulon are an example of the negative side to professional rugby. The French side have bought their way to the top with inflow and outflow of brand names from world rugby.

Their supporters adapt to whatever players come and go, and the quest for results is as ruthless as the squad and coaching staff's yearly selection.

As a team, when given space they are dangerous and hard to stop but like all French sides, once you silence the home crowd you inevitably slow the home team's dominance.

Toulon's recent history in European rugby is impressive, but Wasps last weekend showed us that the back-to-back champions have weaknesses and it is up to Leinster over the next two weeks to expose these to their own benefit.

When Glasgow came to the RDS two weeks ago, the Leinster management had no choice but to pick from a squad without the Ireland internationals who had played the last Six Nations game.

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This week away to Dragons, they have a chance to pick a team for the remainder of the season. Dragons beat Leinster on their last visit to the RDS and will provide a good test before the Toulon match.

If Leinster put in a performance in Newport, the rewards will be two-fold: they will climb the ladder in the Pro12 and also gain confidence going into the semi-final in Europe.

Anything less than this will result in a slippery slope scenario.

As the season progresses to the knockout stages in both competitions, the margin for error in these pressure games becomes less. In semi-finals and finals, teams are pushed to the limit and weaknesses are exposed.

All teams will be put under the microscope by their opponents and unfortunately consistent problems occur weekly for Leinster.

It is quite clear that after three to four phases, Leinster's defence falls apart. Conversely, if you look at Bath last weekend, their defence was solid after many phases and sometimes managed to inch Leinster backwards.

When the ball was kicked to George Ford, Leinster's chase was less than desirable, which gave Ford the time to decide on many options ahead of him.

Leinster's defence had gaping holes, which the Bath out-half duly exploited. Off the set-pieces, Bath used strike runners in their backline that held the Leinster defence and although they did not initially penetrate, they made yards.

While reviewing the video this week, Leinster will learn more from watching Bath attack than their own.

While the loyal Leinster fans might think they have a mountain to climb in terms of preparation for the next few weeks, there are lots of positives to take from the games at this stage.

For Leinster fans and management, there is no doubt that the Ireland internationals will up their game for this weekend. The rustiness and unfamiliarity was evident last weekend and the previous weekend off should pay dividends around this period.


If Sean Cronin can raise his percentage at the lineout, he should be considered for the starting berth with Ireland.

One would have to expect the midfield partnership to improve for next week. It may be worth considering swapping Ian Madigan and Ben Te'o.

Leinster's key attribute at the moment is their ability to frustrate teams at the breakdown.

Referees over the last few months incredibly take instructions from both Heaslip and Sean O'Brien at ruck time.

Hopefully this manipulation will last, although Ford's recent tweet of complaint might highlight the two wise men's antics.

From an Irish perspective, it was imperative that Leinster made the semi-finals of Europe.

Without adding more pressure, what Leinster do from now will have a large impact on Ireland's immediate rugby future.

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