Wednesday 17 July 2019

Victor Costello: Leinster must find attacking edge of old this season

Ian Madigan has been able to produce some of Leinster's few breakaways
Ian Madigan has been able to produce some of Leinster's few breakaways

Victor Costello

Last week's loss to Connacht was a tough one. It's hard for Leinster not to go to the Sportsground proud of what they have achieved over the past few seasons.

They get a chance to flaunt their expertise without leaving the island. For Connacht, it's a big payday from the gate and for the players, it's a chance to prove themselves against their Irish colleagues, and also the most consistent performer in this competition.

The build-up before the game from a Leinster point of view is more enjoyable than any other Pro12 game, because when you come through the gates in the Sportsground and meet the opposition supporters, you know as much as they do that for the next couple of hours they mightn't like you, but underneath it they still admire your performances, albeit in a different venue and jersey.

When playing Connacht, you have to realise that there's more at stake than just bragging rights. Take this season for example; from a Leinster point of view, Irish squad selection and the competition for places of which there will be many variations with the World Cup coming up. Leinster needed to bring an anger into that game in order to protect their current status in both. Their lack of adaptation to this siege resulted in a deserved victory for Connacht.

Players like Kieran Marmion and Darragh Leader have done themselves no harm in terms of World Cup selection if they can maintain the standard that they are setting throughout the season.

Back in 1999, Rod McQueen, the Australian coach at the time, won a World Cup by concentrating on what his team did without the ball as opposed to with it.

After that World Cup other teams decided to follow suit. Connacht had a defensive system that Leinster could not penetrate.

Add to this the likes of John Muldoon's physicality, Robbie Henshaw's determination in defence, plus their ability to turn over ball (unfortunately as a main source of possession).

Pat Lam is clearly building his team from a defensive platform. The physicality produced from this Connacht team has not been seen before. The whole team is buying into it and this was more prevalent than ever for the 10 minutes they had to play with 14 players.

When a team is down to 14 men, they have to play a particular way to counteract the opposition having the extra player. What most teams do in this scenario is slow the pace of the game down, try and maintain possession and defend in the opposition's face.

Connacht managed this quite well and showed how professional the outfit has now become. Conversely, the team that has the extra man will try and up the pace, keep the ball from going dead and run everything.

This gives them the opportunity to expose the opposition who are down a man.

Unfortunately, Leinster with all their experience did not manage to do that as they lacked the concentration that prevailed with them through the rest of the game.

Pro12 ambitions always require home victories. Leinster losing two away games will not sit well in the RDS and, as it was after Glasgow, tonight's game against Cardiff cannot come fast enough as they look to put their goals and desires for the season back on track.

Even at this early stage in the season, the Leinster attack seems to have lost its structure.

There have been some great individual moments from the usual suspects but the support lines don't seem to be providing the vital offloads that split the defences.

Brendan Macken, Ian Madigan and a host of forwards have made some strides in producing some regular breakaways but on most occasions recently, the support player has not been there to provide the finish and ultimately the initial line break ends in a slowed-down ruck situation, giving the opposition time to reorganise the defence.


While opportunist breaks are part of the norm, there also has to be an attacking structure in place, as once the individual line breaks are snuffed out by the opposition, there is no Plan B.

Leinster have a scrum coach, defence coach, forwards coach, and fitness coach. There might be room and a need for an attacking coach as well and the next few weeks will tell.

Fresh ideas keep the players on their toes and the opposition guessing. Trying out new moves on the field of play always kept the players thinking on the pitch.

This thinking while playing has been missing and a lot of the performances have just come naturally.

The players have admitted in the press this week they need to get back to the free-flowing brand of attack rugby of old and I fully expect that to happen against Cardiff but hopefully not temporarily.

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