Thursday 19 September 2019

Victor Costello: 'There will be players in blue this weekend who will still be wearing green in Japan'

15 September 2018; Max Deegan of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 3 match between Leinster and Dragons at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
15 September 2018; Max Deegan of Leinster during the Guinness PRO14 Round 3 match between Leinster and Dragons at the RDS Arena in Dublin. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Victor Costello

From whatever angle you look at it, the standard and intensity in the last month of games has varied considerably.

This, of course, would be the nature of the game and the season, but throw in the November internationals and the peaks and troughs increase on the graph.

A trip to a foggy and damp Treviso would not exactly be the visual or performance peak of European rugby when you consider a recent rout in Toulouse and a packed Aviva Stadium for the Munster game in Dublin, but nevertheless the show must go on.

Leinster's professionalism kicked in to dispose of a troublesome Benetton side that have been notorious at home and problematic on the road.

The game would have tested the resolve of even the most committed fan, but in fairness Leo Cullen's men seem committed to the cause whatever the venue, weather or opposition. They needed to use this game wisely and did.

If it was any other team in the league it would be a maximum-point opportunity and a chance to climb up the PRO14 league table and move to the next game, but Leinster played it differently.

The game-plan employed was adequate enough to win but its execution was initially troublesome.

Leinster have the confidence to know that if route one gets closed mid-game, they can adjust to the other route.

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

What Leinster have gained over the last few seasons with their success is the ability to control the pace and intensity of games.

Even if the game is in a high-intensity period, they can control and steer the game to their benefit and penalise the opposition.

This, of course, is an ability Leinster have gained but don't always execute.

Benetton matched their hardest hitters and finding yards in the soggy Italian ground was hard, and required more repetition than expected.

These games can be tougher than the higher-profile ones in full stadiums due to the determined nature of the underdog who is trying to climb up the ranks in the league.

Nevertheless, the battle continued.

Ross Byrne managed the ball he received well with his years in the jersey emitting confidence worthy of Irish selection.

Adam Byrne's try signalled his return to the level of rugby he should be constantly at and his resilience will stand to him going forward.

Conor O'Brien's entrance into this level was particularly impressive from the off with an impressive try.

Max Deegan managed a performance equal to his Leinster forward counterparts in recent weeks but he will have to wait for the bigger stage for acknowledgment.

And with the likes of Rob Kearney and Seán O'Brien back in the fold, Leinster were doing Irish rugby a service as well as themselves.

It was no glamour fixture but it was functional for a side that will be depleted over the coming weeks.

Leinster have been down this international road before and the experience of this has probably been the greatest catalyst to their current success.

As the side returned last Saturday from Italy with a bonus point in the bag, the question would have been who was going to Chicago and who wasn't.

There's no doubt that the management will have prepared for this exodus from a Leinster point of view but that doesn't change the mindset of the individual players.

This is where Leinster's management of players off the pitch this month will be vital.

Selection for Ireland, non-selection, injuries, losses and wins are all thrown into the mix in international season.

Players have to deal with these issues plus the different calls and game-plans, while commuting between provincial and international duty.

Let's not forget Seán O'Brien was travelling with Leinster to Zebre in November 2016 while his Irish counterparts made history in Chicago. That has to be the sporting equivalent of yin and yang.

This weekend Leinster travel to South Africa, and while it's a long way from Chicago, there are players who will be wearing Leinster blue this weekend who will still wear the green for Ireland come the World Cup.

The hard question is how they perform away from the bigger stage. The Southern Kings are growing in this competition and it's only natural the further Leinster travel the harder it is to keep the culture intact.

The Leinster squad's reserves will be raided for this game. It is hugely important that their standard is maintained through this game and through this period.

It is also hugely disappointing that Fergus McFadden is injured for the next four months as his hunger and determination epitomise what Leinster are about, and he is the ideal player to keep the core values through all competitions. The sooner he's back the better.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport