Monday 10 December 2018

Victor Costello: 'Irish rugby is riding high and Leinster must do their best to keep playing their part'

Behind the scenes: The Leinster coaches can take great credit for the form of Devin Toner against New Zealand last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile
Behind the scenes: The Leinster coaches can take great credit for the form of Devin Toner against New Zealand last weekend. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Irish Rugby has never had it so good and it makes you wonder how much better could it get? From an Irish point of view, beating the All Blacks has left just one more mountain to climb.

Next year's World Cup cannot come quick enough so flights and tickets to Japan will be at a premium.

As Ireland become a target for other countries, Leinster have been the team to beat at club level for some time. There is no doubting this group of players currently and in the future.

The provincial structure has created this robust squad and will continue to keep Irish hopes buoyant throughout the next 10 months.

While the expectation of this group goes sky-high, the daily routine of the PRO14 continues against the Ospreys.

Welsh rugby is nowhere near the heights of their Irish counterparts at all levels and because of this their focus on the PRO14 is more straightforward.

Distraction With less distraction in the league, the Ospreys have had an impressive season so far. A recent loss to Glasgow at home will hurt but tonight's game is one that they would have targeted from the start of the season.

Allen Clarke knows Leinster well from all angles; he was part of a successful era with Ulster as player and a coach.

Anyone coming to the RDS at the moment will know that it is as good a time as any to face this Leinster side.

By their own high standards, Leinster were below-par in Treviso and in South Africa recently and they will want to improve in front of the home crowd.

The scenes in the Aviva last Saturday will be remembered for a long time but there were players on the outside of that squad who missed out on the historic day.

From a player's point of view, you want to start and be part of every game.

In modern-day Irish rugby that is impossible due to the player management systems and the size of the world-class squad available.

The contrast of beating the All Blacks to playing in the PRO14 with a development squad is part of the mental test of modern pro players.

Disruption has been expected this season like all seasons but the euphoria of the recent Irish win is uncharted territory for all involved in Leinster.

With Leinster clear in their selection objective this evening, it is important the crowd get around what will be a difficult game with some relatively unknown players.

But with the current injury toll and the international player drain this is the right time to experiment.

Leinster know better than any other province the value of blooding young players through the PRO14.

The Leinster faithful enjoy world-class rugby with world-class players every week and this has provided long, successful journeys most seasons.

The next generation will build from this and have a right to enjoy the RDS crowd that have been an integral part in past and present success.

They will have confidence in their selection pool this weekend and there is no doubt it will provide an entertaining game.

The management and players will take a lot of comfort that this game is on home turf and not on the road like the last few games.

The Leinster conveyor belt has produced well over the past few seasons and as much as it is a proud part of the set-up, there will be pressure on players to perform at senior level.

These players will know that these chances don't come regularly and there will be a determination to prove their selection correct.

Once they get a taste for it they will want more game-time which will make the training park more combative and competitive.

A win against the Ospreys will ensure more selection in the future, a loss will make the management resort back to their default squad.

Unfortunately for them, the injury list is expanding and what is most worrying is the length and timespan of the injuries.

Absorb At this time of the season Leinster can absorb it but the management have to consistently think ahead.

The selection process for the next couple of games will favour the youth and wider squad to see this block through but will need experience to continue the winning formula in the medium and long term.

The coaches can be proud of the performances of their Irish team representation, particularly Josh van der Flier and Devin Toner recently, but there will be pressure to get a full complement of players fresh for if not the next European pool stages, then definitely for the play-offs next spring.

This current successful environment should be enjoyed and savoured - but there are bigger games ahead.

Club and country need to work in tandem to gain the maximum outcome for both this season and on through to the World Cup.

As a fan one can rejoice in this fine period of rugby dominance; as a player you are only as good as your last and possibly next game. As a coach you cannot relive the moment but you have to make sure the best is still to come.

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