Wednesday 11 December 2019

Victor Costello: 'Leadership must improve in Lyon for Blues' European campaign to be a success'

Rhys Ruddock
Rhys Ruddock

Victor Costello

There is no doubt that the teams that survive the longest time at the top win games in all manners and at all costs, even if the victories are not that glamorous.

A confident Benetton came to the RDS last weekend, having done themselves proud on previous outings. The Italian side created many opportunities but lacked the execution of a more experienced European club.

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A maximum-points win sufficed for Leinster but the game was more than just a crucial home victory, it was a platform for the likes of Johnny Sexton, Josh van der Flier and Garry Ringrose to express themselves in a way they haven't been used to in recent months.

There is no doubt that physically the international players are peaking at this time but management will have to be aware of their mental fatigue later in this season.

The determination from the home side was more than you would expect from them playing against Benetton and, in reality, this urgency inhibited the Leinster side's performance.

The desperate need for collective and individual performances were unbecoming of a recently more relaxed Leinster and was more like a release valve for months of frustration.

Captaincy

With this in mind it might have been better to award the captaincy to Rhys Ruddock for the first of these European games.

Sexton had clearly, and rightly, an ambition to get back to winning ways and in doing so lost sight of his captaincy duties.

This game would have been out of sight earlier if the referee was challenged on some of his interpretations from the Leinster hierarchy.

The Blues were clearly happy to win this game the hard way but they will have to be smarter and more united tomorrow.

Against Benetton, the winning consistency continued as did the individual performances.

Rónan Kelleher's core skills and try-scoring ability will be hard to ignore from the Irish management point of view but he will have to keep the pressure up this weekend away from home.

A notable performance from Caelan Doris was matched by his fellow back-row partner Max Deegan - all benefiting from another European outing but likely to step aside for a more robust Scott Fardy against Lyon.

Benetton were never going to win this game and in the video review they will see they were another step in the ongoing Leinster machine and its transition from PRO14 into Europe.

Tomorrow, however, will be different so Leinster must become more focused and less introverted in their performance.

Now that Saracens have fallen on their sword in their domestic game, the door is open for Leinster with the heat on their greatest recent rival.

The quick decision for Saracens to accept the fine means they clearly want to resolve the issue as soon as possible. Usually this might clear Leinster's path but we have learned through the years that the Champions Cup is not as predictable as that.

Tomorrow's game against Lyon will provide a stern test for the Dublin-based side and selection will have to be more acute than it has been recently.

Lyon will need to improve having not turned up last weekend until the second half against Northampton.

League leaders in the Top 14, they have struggled to replicate their form on the European stage.

It will be do or die for them in their European campaign as two losses back-to-back will rule them out of the competition and see them become fodder for other sides.

Being the hosts, though, they will have a different attitude and it will take more than what Leinster have recently produced to beat them.

The Blues, of course, are seasoned competitors away from home in Europe but it will be vital they do not slip up this early in their campaign.

They have had the luxury of mixing up selection over the past few weeks to accommodate the returning internationals while still keeping the successful youth on board. However, it'll be seen as more of a headache for Leinster management.

Dictate

In Leinster's urgency to re-establish themselves individually in Europe last weekend they were not able to dictate the pace of the game. This is where, again, leadership was a problem and needs to be addressed.

Benetton were able to pull Leinster into a dogfight and the home side were too busy exorcising their demons to notice their lack of grip on the game.

This weekend they will have to kick into full European-winning mode, and an away game in France will focus the mind of both players and management.

Lyon are fledglings in this Champions Cup, but like all newcomers they will start by focusing on their home games.

Being a French outfit, they will have pride and passion at home but little else should Leinster contain them early.

There will be little or no relevant footage for Leinster to review from the Franklin's Gardens visit and the Blues will have to focus on their own game rather than the hosts'.

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