Saturday 24 August 2019

Victor Costello: Players returning from Ireland duty will feel a sense of freedom at Leinster

Johnny Sexton
Johnny Sexton

Victor Costello

Leinster's home victory last weekend was hard fought against a Scarlets side that they struggled against a few weeks ago.

Playing them again at home was always going to set a yardstick before the Champions Cup kicked off.

Maintaining a winning culture at home is paramount in any competition as it gives great confidence to both the players and the crowd.

When things get tough in bigger competitive matches, winning trench warfare battles, albeit not glamorous, stand the test of time throughout a long season.

Over the years, Leinster have played an expansive game that has excited even the most cynical.

When Joe Schmidt was elevated to the national side, the Irish supporters expected the same sort of gameplan, and the Blues supporters expected more of the same.

Leinster's mantra was and still is to throw the ball around. For years Munster were the dominant side in Europe and their weekly routine was grinding out the kind of wins that an average rugby squad would struggle to do from seemingly irrecoverable situations.

It was in their DNA. Back in the early 1990s, Shannon were doing it season after season and those of us watching Munster's success saw many glamorous rugby sides from across Europe fall under their stranglehold.

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Years ago, Leinster would have had the luxury of playing their best XV a week before European rugby started, giving their front liners a chance to dust off the cobwebs.

Unfortunately these days, due to a demanding schedule, the Leinster management have to navigate cautiously.

For the players coming back from the World Cup, they will be eager to get back to winning ways.

Lining out for Leinster will give them the cleansing that they need, but the work that was done at home by the other players while they were away will have to be noticed.

Where Ireland suffered, Leinster will gain. Much was spoken about Schmidt's totalitarian regime and how he controlled everything from the sidelines.

Unfortunately it was obvious throughout the World Cup that the players were not confident in playing what they saw in both defence and attack and therefore stuck to a rigid regime of what was discussed the previous week.

I have no doubt that those Irish players returning will feel a sense of freedom under this Leinster management, compared to what they have been used to over the last while with Ireland.

It is unfortunate that the playmakers Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are unlikely to be available but the rest of the Irish representatives, particularly Johnny Sexton, Ian Madigan and Sean Cronin, should burst onto the European scene this weekend with a new found vigour.

A six-day turnaround will increase the pressure but anything other than a win at home will not suffice.

Wasps, who Leinster beat once and drew with last season, have recruited well. The veteran Australian backrow George Smith will be a thorn in their side.

Captain James Haskell is their main ball carrier but unfortunately epitomises what's wrong with English rugby at the moment - being all talk and very little action.


Wasps are mid-table in the Premiership but they will bring a strong defence and some formidable strike runners with the likes of Christian Wade.

European weeks bring extra pressure for both coaches and players but it all helps to make it a very special few days for all involved.

Focus levels and nerves are at a higher level than most weeks and the bond between the group grows closer with the experience.

This season's Leinster squad has a platform to perform in Europe by winning first at home.

It is not an easy group but winning Europe was never easy, it's just something that this team is very capable of doing.

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