Tuesday 25 June 2019

Victor Costello: 'Leinster must find cohesion, clarity and confidence ahead of Toulouse showdown'

Jordan Larmour has had mixed form of late. Photo: Sportsfile
Jordan Larmour has had mixed form of late. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

Leinster's success so far in the PRO14 this season has granted them the time to breathe in the weeks before the Champions Cup semi-finals.

In doing so, the management have widened their squad by navigating their selection through injuries and form.

With the national side's pride recovering, Leinster have been focusing on the upcoming Toulouse clash while allocating sufficient resources to last week's Benetton draw and tomorrow's Glasgow game.

The results of both fundamentally don't matter but individual and team performances do.

The stalemate against Benetton was not ideal, but individually some players performed and repaid the faith placed in them and put themselves in contention for the home European semi-final.

The improved and table-climbing Benetton would not lie down.

Leinster struggled to get into their stride and this would have been frustrating territory for the less-experienced side.

With Nigel Owens giving little to the home team the crowd had little enough to cheer about apart from some familiar faces returning to form.

Mistake

Luke McGrath is getting back to his international form but having him as captain so soon on his return may have been a mistake.

Leinster played trench warfare when they didn't need to.

At this stage of the season, this is a very dangerous tactic as the attrition rate is already too high; Mick Kearney is another example of the ongoing injury crisis due to inaccurate game planning.

These type of games are hard to play in as most players have a point to prove and not much time to prove it.

Take, for example, Max Deegan and Scott Penny. The latter is a true openside and Deegan is a more flexible option in the back-row.

If Deegan hadn't played last week, Leinster would have lost the game. His work-rate throughout the 80 minutes warrants his inclusion in the 23 for the next two games at least.

Penny is a definite for the future and is not lacking will or ambition.

With that in mind, Jack McGrath going to Ulster next season will be a good move for the short term but not in the medium to long term.

Already we see the need for Jordi Murphy to return after less than one season away.

Players do get frustrated with little game time but Leinster's ongoing success means that all players not necessarily in the XV will still be in contention for Leinster and Ireland.

Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney are prime examples.

The squad system has worked well over the past few years and it's only now beginning to run dry at a crucial stage.

On the negative side for players leaving, Murphy will have to be content seeing out the Champions Cup from the sidelines while his Irish colleagues battle in the European semi-finals.

Leinster have developed a large group to pick from, albeit much different from this time last year where they had a group of confident Grand Slam-winning, mentally and physically strong, players ready to finish the final stages of Europe. And the competition is tougher too.

This is the third time Leinster take on Toulouse this season and the French side have bucked the trend of travelling French teams proving flaky opposition.

They are playing with great team confidence whereas Leinster are playing with great individuals.

The management will need to narrow their thinking this week when it comes to selection.

The recuperation and rehabilitation of some off-form players should now be complete and while Leo Cullen has said he will not pick on reputation, he may have to pick on experience.

Tomorrow's meeting with Glasgow will be all about creating cohesion and momentum for the following week.

Robbie Henshaw's return to full fitness is encouraging, while Kearney's rejuvenation should propel him into the match-day squad at minimum.

Valiant

Jordan Larmour and Adam Byrne's efforts have been valiant but defensively too costly at this intense stage of the competition.

The interesting question will be how the management select their foreign players.

The possibility of Jamison Gibson-Park losing out to accommodate James Lowe and Scott Fardy will probably be a good team call but would be hard on the soon to be Irish-qualified scrum-half.

There is no doubt Leinster will see a better Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien lining out over the coming weeks.

Both have had from their critics lately, but big games are where big-game players perform.

Leinster's recent culture has been to win and that has not changed within the province, but what has changed is the productive linear movement between province and country.

Leadership once again will be an issue and as much as the Leinster management have confidence in building cohesion behind closed doors on the training pitch, they will also know this will not replicate the intensity of a Champions Cup semi-final.

Irish Independent

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