Monday 23 September 2019

Victor Costello: Over-reliance on international players has taken toll on Leinster

Sean Cronin
Sean Cronin

Victor Costello

Leinster's displays over the past few weeks, while under the radar and comparably unnoticed due to the internationals, are less than desirable.

Scavenging points at this time in the season leads to inconsistency and below-par performances. The ideal situation going into the play-offs of any competition is to have a high level of performance as a foundation to build on.

If this standard is not met, the inevitable happens, where teams' past mistakes come back to haunt them in the heat and pressure and leaves the fans lamenting the season and looking forward to the next.

Half-empty stadia are forgiveable at the moment for marketing departments but the performances of players and teams need to be at a level to fill them when the international season is over.

Like every away game, there are many ways to look at it. From a positive point of view, getting out of Wales against Ospreys with a draw is a decent result by some standards; maintaining fourth position in the league is another.

However, the manner in which Scott Otten broke through the midfield highlighted the defensive errors that have crept into Leinster's game over the last three months.

Sometimes letting the unacceptable become the acceptable in these games makes these mistakes happen again when the pressure is on in a few weeks.

The recent talk of bringing back Isa Nacewa shows that the Leinster management are not keen to go through any part of next season with the same international player drain that will continue during the World Cup period.

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The over-reliance on these players has never been more prevalent than it is at the moment and unfortunately performance-wise, it has taken its toll.

However, to say all is not lost would be an understatement.

Fourteen players on international duty at any given time during the season is tough to deal with and especially considering there are more international games this season than most.

Come the end of the Six Nations, Leinster have a home game against the current leaders Glasgow - one game to get it right for Europe.

The bonus by that stage will be the game time that Cian Healy and Sean O'Brien will have had. Last weekend saw the return of Rhys Ruddock, which adds more power and pace to the back-row, including another lineout option.

Tomorrow's game against the Scarlets will probably prove to be another drab affair, particularly as Parc y Scarlets is the worst of all the Welsh venues.

A stadium created in 2008 is the complete opposite to the tradition and history of Stradey Park, their former venue.

Although there is continued disruption due the international duty, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I have no doubt that Leinster will beat Glasgow and go on to beat Bath. What the Leinster players do against Scarlets tomorrow will define what happens in their home games.

Sean Cronin and Eoin Reddan's availability will help the cause, as they will need to maintain a standard for Irish selection.

Players who are selected need to perform on the road in order to enjoy the spoils of the next two home games.

This competitiveness should see them through tomorrow's dull fixture.

In an ideal world, Leinster would have created a strong platform during this time but professional rugby is unpredictable. Leinster can take some solace from the fact that they and Connacht are the only provinces still fighting in Europe.

When the spotlight comes on them again, the media will be less forgiving and a long summer of explanations won't help Leinster's plight next year.

Even at this stage in the Six Nations campaign, we can safely say that the players involved have a winning mentality. This mentality was the core of Munster and Leinster's success in the past.

While individual performances are constantly good throughout the season and the same names pop up helping Leinster's cause, the catalyst for a successful season over the next few months will be the return of those who have spent most of the season unavailable.

For those consistent performers, the experience of so many games will stand to them and recognition will come further down the line.

In typical fashion, the last few games have slipped under the radar while, for the next few, the whole country will be watching.

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