Monday 18 November 2019

Victor Costello: 'A typical uphill battle at the Sportsground will tell us a lot about this Leinster side'

Scott Penny is tackled by Ollie Griffiths of Dragons. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Scott Penny is tackled by Ollie Griffiths of Dragons. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

The six-day turnaround was short enough for the Leinster players to extinguish the memories of their Italian trip the weekend before.

No disrespect meant to the Italian side, but if Leinster have ambitions of winning trophies this season it was a game which they could take some 'learnings' from. However, I'm sure the game was disposed of quickly after the Monday morning review.

Last Friday, the Blues initially brought their Italian form to the RDS but it did not take long for them to kick into top gear in front of their home crowd.

From the outset the Dragons weren't bad but even though recent form has been good there is still a hangover from last season's disruption.

In the PRO14 at the moment most sides are in survival mode until the World Cup players return.

Leinster on the other hand could not be better placed to head west tonight to what will be their first real test this season.

Regulars to the RDS will note the consistency with which this team play; the injection of youth has thrown up all sorts of probable selection conundrums as we face into European rugby.

Viewpoint

Yes, of course fans are looking at Leinster with their hearts somewhat broken from an Irish viewpoint but if we were to learn anything from our international management and selection processes this season, it would be the real value of selecting on form.

Lots of coaches talk about it but never practise what they preach. This season management have a real opportunity to embrace the performances of individuals without putting them back to grass for a couple of weeks the way that most clubs may have in the past.

With Jack Conan and Dan Leavy in recovery, and Rhys Ruddock aside, there is great opportunity for the Scott Penny, Max Deegan and Caelan Doris back-row unit.

Throw Scott Fardy into this mix the odd time and you have a European-bashing back-row for the foreseeable future.

Rónan Kelleher and Peter Dooley too for the front-row and out wide Conor O'Brien and the dependable Rory O'Loughlin need to be allowed continue their form. Couple this with the ongoing form of Dave Kearney and James Lowe and Leinster are better placed than most at this stage of the season.

The Byrne brothers' sibling rivalry at out-half will produce the best from both and will most definitely be the envy of other provinces.

There was a time when Munster were the barometer of where Leinster really are in the performance stakes in a season.

The timing and performances in these games were always paramount to European preparation and success. More recently, Connacht have been the side that have been able to expose Leinster.

With the Westerners in good recent form and not subject to a player drain or fallout from the World Cup, this will push Leinster to the best of their ability.

The fact that this is an away game will test the mental resolve too.

The underdog mentally sits well in Connacht and they are more worthy than just the odd win as we saw in 2016.

But this season Leinster have a real chance of going one step further than last year in Europe, and the uphill battle in the Sportsground will tell a lot about this group of players.

Under normal circumstances, selection would be a contentious issue for this week but with Benetton at home the following week to kick off the Champions Cup, there will be more options open to Leinster.

With the international players coming back, Leinster have more time than other provinces to blend them in. With two competitions crossing over at this time of year, the two performances will be crucial to Leinster and their longevity in both competitions

Robin McBryde's introduction to the Leinster set-up will increase both the skill and the passion of the pack. McBryde has a long and impressive pedigree in the game as both a player and a coach and bolsters an impressive management team.

Filter

Under Leo Cullen, credit has to be given to the forward thinking of Leinster rugby and their coaching staff.

Most professional club management centres around the one head coach and their ideas subsequently filter down though to the back-up staff.

In Leinster's case, egos and titles are cast aside for the good of the group and the wealth of experience amongst the management team leaves no stone unturned.

In McBryde's case, his knowledge of scrum and lineout will be a considerable wealth of experience for both senior and up-and-coming players to tap into.

The international players will be eager to get back in to wearing the blue jersey as they will want to get back to winning rugby.

The next two games can accommodate the current group of Leinster players as well as the returning group.

For Leinster, it is a long season ahead. However, for the internationals it has been even longer.

Managing this long season and the successes and failures so far will be at the forefront of the coaches' minds, not only now but for the rest of this season.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Champions Cup preview, the World Cup hangover and Joe Schmidt's next team

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport