Saturday 24 February 2018

Victor Costello: Leo must ignore calls to adopt expansive game-plan and focus on getting results

Josh Van der Flier’s work-rate is up there with the best opensides in Europe
Josh Van der Flier’s work-rate is up there with the best opensides in Europe

Victor Costello

To the common eye, last week's slog against Ulster was a boring, unappetising inter-provincial match.

No matter what Ulster have done in the Kingspan Stadium, or what they used to do in Ravenhill, it generally never matters when it comes to a derby game in the RDS. Leinster will always have the upper hand, even if the home side's season has declined and free-flowing tries are at a minimum.

I have spoken before about Leinster's management and their dealing with the media but there are signs from last week's game that they have done what they said they would do.

Most provinces are guilty of playing a conservative style of rugby at the moment.

Connacht are the leaders in promoting a high-risk style of play that their supporters revel in and this worked for them in their impressive win against Munster.

With the Ireland squad and across the provinces, there is a call for a more expansive game but as a provincial coach you cannot buy into the pressure from outside and must focus on rebuilding within.

The win against Ulster was not pretty but it was necessary. The manner of play was much improved from Leinster's first outing in Europe. The creativity and acceleration from the half-backs and backline was impressive, although unfinished.

The set-pieces were improved - they had clearly been given the necessary attention midweek.

Ulster have to be given credit for their defensive structure under Les Kiss but offered little else.

With the selection of Luke McGrath and Josh van der Flier, it is clear that Leinster are rebuilding and should be given time to do so. With the performance of these two players, this rebuilding process should not take long.

McGrath is providing Jonathan Sexton with a fast, efficient service and Van der Flier's work-rate is up there with the best opensides in Europe.

What should be worked on for his and his colleagues' benefit is the balance of the back-row. Through Leinster's most successful years, there has been an abundance of power available in this area and the right balance didn't matter as they were blitzing through teams.

The back-row during this time was built primarily around Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien. In the future, the back-row will be built around Van der Flier, with a ball carrier and lineout option to accompany him.

Glasgow away this weekend looks winnable as the champions are suffering a lag from their success last year. But Leo Cullen has to be smart in selection.

The next three weeks is where the management need to prioritise the Pro12 while putting performances back into European games. Selection this week must determine selection for the next three weeks, bar injury.

Consistency in selection will show consistency in performance and the in-form new blood will increase the energy levels in the big games they would normally be discarded for.

Whatever the blend of youth and experience the management pick, they should stick with.


There has been much talk about the back-to-back games against Toulon and it would be hard for the players to ignore theses hurdles before the Christmas period.

However, no game over the next three weeks should strike fear into anyone involved in Leinster.

When Irish teams were dominant in Europe they had a pride in their performance that no other team could beat.

Toulon are the Expendables of European rugby, a bunch of aged mercenaries thrown together that have bullied teams over the last five years.

Leinster have the tradition and they just need the belief to turn them over.

This build-up needs to start against Glasgow - Scotstoun Stadium can be the warm up for Stade Felix Mayol.

Irish Independent

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