Thursday 12 December 2019

Victor Costello: Ireland should be thankful for Leinster's return to form ahead of Six Nations

Leinster's James Tracy stood up to the Bath bullying up front (SPORTSFILE)
Leinster's James Tracy stood up to the Bath bullying up front (SPORTSFILE)

Victor Costello

The recent turmoil and negativity surrounding Leinster gives everyone involved the right to rejoice in the success of last weekend.

In fact, Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora (when he returns to work from Australia) should turn up at Leinster this week to shake the hands of the management for producing new young talent for this year's Six Nations as well as rejuvenating the experienced players from their post-World Cup trauma.

So let's look at the many positives.

Garry Ringrose, a player who is the talk of Europe - and imagine the pressure that comes with that - is providing excitement for all around him the minute he touches the ball.

Every player speaks about his dedication and enthusiasm on the training pitch and this is reflected on match day. Ringrose doesn't wait for the fancy stuff to happen, he makes it happen by concentrating on the basics, keeping his work rate up and being patient.

Luke McGrath is getting better with every game and in fairness to Eoin Reddan, the two Leinster scrum-halves have benefited from the former's excellent performances.

Leinster needed to rate themselves last weekend to see if they had turned the corner they so desperately needed to, and Bath would have had preconceived ideas from the Blues' performance at the Rec a few months ago.

Our abiding memory from that game was the destruction of the Leinster scrum. Such destruction led to a meeting following morning where Jack McGrath vowed to the media days later that the same would not happen again.

It didn't and the Leinster front-row stood up to the Bath bullying with some notable performances from all three, particularly James Tracy.

The hooker's all-round game put pressure on Sean Cronin to perform like he did when he came on as a replacement.

I don't normally care about stats but I cannot remember a time when a club was out of the competition and yet performed the way Leinster and Munster did last weekend. Take note French and English rugby.

I'm sure the European powers noticed this as a Champions Cup without the Irish provinces performing will hit them in their pockets - where it seems to hurt them most.

The Ricoh Arena is by no means a fortress. Nevertheless Wasps are the form team in this group of death. This week will be a little harder to perform away from home but Wasps will give Leinster the respect they deserve and therefore opportunity.

Jimmy Gopperth will have a point to prove against his old province and the Wasps back-row is probably the best in the competition. In last season's game, Leinster were the dominant team and Wasps' performance was less than typical of a home European tie.

Leinster's basics have improved as well as their attitude and vigour. Set-pieces, defence and rucking areas are beginning to show structure and there is no doubt that Wasps, like Bath last weekend, will be facing a different team to the one they beat at the beginning of the season.


For Leinster as a team, there is no silverware at the end of this weekend but individually there are Six Nations places up for grabs.

The management will have to select a blend of players reflecting both the youth that will keep them performing over the next few weeks and the experienced ones who will need stake their claim again as the standard-bearers of Irish rugby.

The ability to select from two rich personnel streams will keep Leinster performing and a win is not out of the question this weekend.

Leo Cullen will know that for this season the victories are needed in the Pro12 and that the performances only are needed for the final Champions Cup game.

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