Sunday 23 September 2018

Victor Costello: Leinster are in cruise control, they just don't seem to be hungry enough right now

Backs coach Felipe Contepomi speaks with Jack Kelly Ramsey Cardy/ Sportsfile
Backs coach Felipe Contepomi speaks with Jack Kelly Ramsey Cardy/ Sportsfile

Victor Costello

There are a lot of ingredients that go into the winning formula for a team.

These probably would take a lot of time to go through but most are evident in the first 20 minutes of a game.

Rugby being a contact sport unearths all of its DNA in 80 minutes and any team lacking all of the required composites inevitably come up short.

Last week against the Scarlets, Leinster had an ideal opportunity to keep the hand on the head of the annoying terrier trying to bite at their heels.

In fact, while the Scarlets gave their best 10 minutes at the start, Leinster, without raising a heartbeat, subdued Wales's best franchise with ease.

Ross Byrne's try-saving tackle proved the intent attitude of not giving up once the front-line defence has been broken.

But as much as they showed their capability in this game, they also showed their weaknesses.

On week two of the PRO14, the Leinster management have shown their teeth already. Within the team, they can always draw on their vast resources to up the ante when necessary.

Performing

This comes at a cost for those players performing week in, week out when it comes to the play-offs because realistically 25 to 30 world-class players do not fit into 15 when it comes to the end of the season.

But this year the same can be said for the management.

Leo Cullen is quickly becoming one of the most respected coaches in the game and he has a new headache in the passion and hunger for success in Felipe Contepomi.

Felipe would have been seething as Leinster lost in a manner unbecoming of his playing days. But like Leo and his colleagues he has to contain himself in the coaching box and review the bigger picture.

It would be wrong to say that Leinster can brush off the recent defeat to the Scarlets because there is no doubt there will be a united front against the Dragons this weekend which will plunge Bernard Jackman's Welsh side into further turmoil.

However, Leinster are aiming for the bigger stage. There was once a time that taking a big scalp in Donnybrook was the aim of the season, then it was beating Munster, then winning away in France, then beating Munster again away and at home, then wining a quarter or a semi-final and eventually wining the holy grail of a European Cup.

Now this is taken for granted. So what do Leinster do? If they played the Scarlets in the semi-final of the PRO14 or European Cup tomorrow would they win?

Of course they would, but they're not. Leinster are playing the early-season games of the PRO14 and quite frankly they are rusty and maybe not hungry enough - possibly understandably so.

Leinster should have beaten the Scarlets, but they were desperate and they were hungry.

While Leinster were winning all around them a couple of months ago, it would be foolish to think that other clubs wouldn't try and emulate the best club in Europe.

Leinster are in cruise control in the early part of the season and Cullen has spotted it. Who can blame them though?

The innocence of youth they say, but Leo can see the immortality of the big picture.

Leinster are capable of more. They are capable of another two Champions Cups and the legendary status that goes with it.

Leinster have to reignite the fire that made them European champions and tomorrow's game at the RDS will make it look like all is fine and back on track.

Leinster have an embarrassment of riches. You only have to look at the back-row competition to send any off pitch experts into a tailspin, but like last season just look at what Fergus McFadden does for his club.

How many wingers on this land can sniff a try line like him? He had three Scarlets to beat and he still scored. He epitomises what Leinster is and has been about but rarely gets the credit he deserves.

Contain

Leinster were able to contain the Scarlets when they were at their best at home in the first 20, after that they lost focus .

The Champions Cup and PRO14 are the targets this year as they are every year. The consistency of the club and the competitive nature will mean that many additions to the Irish squad are inevitable.

The World Cup is coming up so fast that the expectation levels are almost inconceivable. For Leinster, there's a chance of immortality.

World Cups will come and go but five or more European wins will never be repeated. For players this season will require an ability to serve country and province.

One should follow the other but the importance of Leinster's current weekly routine of PRO14 and European dominance could probably stand the test of time.

The question players won't answer is what is more important - the World Cup or continued success in the day job? Time will tell .

Irish Independent

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