Friday 25 May 2018

Victor Costello - I'm looking forward to reading about Leinster's trip to South Africa in a book down the road

Luke McGrath was one of the standard bearers last weekend. Photo by Richard Huggard/Sportsfile
Luke McGrath was one of the standard bearers last weekend. Photo by Richard Huggard/Sportsfile

Victor Costello

From the off, this trip to South Africa has been littered with incident.

The Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park situation was dismissed as if both players were merely travelling over as part of an extended squad.

Four flights later, the duo have returned to the squad after a far-from-ideal scenario.

The widely-anticipated game itself was a symbol of the lack of knowledge and respect that the locals have for northern hemisphere rugby and its club teams.

It is hard not to think that the former Guinness PRO12 teams are the guinea pigs for the new PRO14 brand name and, unfortunately, Leinster were first up into the arena.

Furthermore, Cian Healy played a starring role on an internal flight.

The comfort of home and the RDS would have seemed a long way away while waiting for the next flight to catch up with his team-mates - I'm looking forward to reading about it in a book down the road!

To the rugby itself and Leinster looked out of sorts, particularly in the first half. It would be easy to say at this stage that this is a common thread for this season to date but in fairness to the players and coaching staff, maximum points from all three games with the same expected this evening will ward off any complaints for the moment.

The inconsistency in the first half and the continued spilled balls in contact proved that the players were trying to run before they could walk and unfortunately these games are more about playing the scoreboard rather than the opposition.

That said, the efforts of the younger players won't go unnoticed for the Leinster five-year plan but for the short-term, injuries to Rob Kearney and rehab with other senior players like Jamie Heaslip remain a strong concern .

The centre partnership last weekend looked out of sorts and with maximum distribution from Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne, you would have expected more from this unit.

Yes, there were some good performances with Ed Byrne carrying well James Ryan sure to push hard for spot with the big boys in the second-row this season but the spilled balls and stupid penalties stunted Leinster's progress until well into the second half.

Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath were the standard bearers on the leadership front but the mental and physical intensity level were nothing more than mid-week training standard.

In modern-day rugby, it is hard to maintain the dressing-room motivation running out into an empty stadium, not due to lack of professionalism but due to its lack of normality. This is why the focus needs to change for the second game against the Cheetahs later this evening.

It is not the role of Leinster Rugby to promote the South Africans clubs' inclusion and those whose role it was have clearly failed but the players need to lap up this experience and benefit from it down the road.


While this mini tour might end up being a dead rubber, it has bought time for the injured and the international players to return as there are many guys playing well a couple of weeks before European rugby is back.

There's now no doubt that Adam Byrne, Ed Byrne, Jack Conan and James Ryan are pushing hard for regular selection.

However, although the large squad can maintain the top spot in both campaigns throughout the season, we have learned over the last two years that is takes the best 23 to win the play-offs.

What happened last season was what Leo Cullen and his management thought were the best 23, were in fact not the best 23.

So the lesson learned is that the apprenticeship system should be alive and well and bar anyone being refused entry back into Ireland or indeed arrested off a plane, Leinster have the wherewithal to end this mini trophy drought.

Irish Independent

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