Wednesday 20 November 2019

Victor Costello: Leinster could not be better placed as they begin their Champions Cup defence

Dan Leavy has become a front-line player for Leinster in a relatively short space of time and impressed once again last weekend. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Dan Leavy has become a front-line player for Leinster in a relatively short space of time and impressed once again last weekend. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

It's been a long time since a game in any competition grabbed both the spectators' and players' concentration for the full 80 minutes.

With pressure on Munster to grab a win against their fellow countrymen, there was equal pressure on Leinster not to underperform at home.

It was the ignition of James Lowe with his first of two killer blows that steadied the Leinster ship. Already the supporters will be comparing him to the club's greatest imports and I'm sure the stats will weigh in his favour currently but what is glaringly obvious is the way he bought into the rivalry immediately and it didn't take him an interpro game or two to get accustomed to the traditional fixture.

Without sounding condescending, Munster are on the way back to their best. Leinster were always going to have to soak up pressure but this time the pressure seemed relentless - no other team could have sustained it.

As seasons progress and commercialism increases with the constant change of sponsorship and tv channels. it is great to see the consistency in the importance of this fixture.

Atmosphere It is a credit to both sets of fans for creating an atmosphere that made the Aviva the most important sports stadium in the world for those 80 minutes.

As a result, barring injury, both sides will win this weekend as the opposition will be irrelevant in comparison.

Peter O'Mahony and David Kilcoyne were outstanding for Munster but matched in intensity by the likes of Fergus McFadden and Rhys Ruddock who both saved at least a try each with their work rate. Kilcoyne put the Leinster scrum under serious pressure and was effective around the pitch too.

Leinster's defence under this pressure was outstanding and they are unlikely to feel this type of this heat again this season.

In truth, neither team had full control but Leinster took their chances and from the sideline Leo Cullen and his management team pulled the strings better than their Munster counterparts.

Their game management with substitutes and Ross Byrne at out-half managed to rise above the passion that can sometimes blind players and management in this fixture - the only way to win this derby is try to see the vision away from the ferocity of pride.

For Munster and Leinster, this week in training will have had both extremes of emotions. Munster should have little concern apart from a dent in their pride.

Their performances against both of their rival provinces were the best in years. Their display in the Aviva was good enough to win; they were unlucky to be up against a team that is making their own luck and on the right end of the bounce of the ball. Ironically, this was Munster's trademark for years.

Across the board, individual players are hitting form at the right time for club and country. Both sides are taking on the might of the English this weekend and the intensity that brings will not be the same as last week unless the Irish provinces decide or need to adjust it. This ability to change the pace will ensure that both will be victorious.

For Leinster, the only obstacle facing them is the memory three years ago in the same venue against the same opposition and stage of the competition.

The reason why this memory resonates so much with this group is because it was a game that started the journey for most of the recent success.

The wider squad personnel change since then is minimal but the attitude and experience improvement is enormous.

The management and players know this of course as they recently thrashed wasps in the Aviva but they also know that game in 2015 is a reference point in their modern history. It was a time of change in Leinster with the squad depleted due to World Cup commitments. With the benefit of hindsight that loss galvanised the squad into what it is today.

It was a reminder to all players how cruel this competition can be and that the hard yards and pain will eventually translate into victory.

Seasoned Since then the Leinster brand names have increased significantly with Lowe, Dan Leavy, James Ryan and Ross Byrne rolling off the tongue, joining the seasoned pros of Rhys Ruddock, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and many others. But most importantly the attitude change has translated into performance.

The body angles of Ryan, Ruddock and Seán O'Brien are pretty much unstoppable and punch the opposition defence that no structure can cope with. This leaves a free run for the likes of Henshaw and Lowe in the backline to penetrate further.

The front-row is amongst the best in the world and the back-row is the same. This makes Leinster a very potent and rounded team and with the guts of 30 players available to play the same way, it makes them pretty invincible in Europe.

Unfortunately for Wasps and their internationals, they will not meet a side in Dublin with second-season fever.

It almost feels cruel dragging them into the intimate RDS for a classic case of retribution.

Irish Independent

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