Saturday 21 July 2018

Victor Costello - Time for Leinster to be selfish and to put their foot down with the IRFU

Leinster have benefited from Robbie Henshaw’s return to form. Photo: SPORTSFILE
Leinster have benefited from Robbie Henshaw’s return to form. Photo: SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

As the Leinster squad revert to the PRO14 there will be an enormous sense of satisfaction derived from the last two Champions Cup outings.

The second week on the trot with an irritatingly early kick off, Leinster secured maximum points away from home which is the foundation to build towards European glory.

The win against Glasgow was admirable but not comprehensive. I have spoke before about the killer instinct and aura that Leinster have carried into their three previous European wins, and while they are on the road to gaining both back, they are not there yet.

Glasgow respected Leinster too much as they are the team the Scots aspire to be but they still more than tested the defence.

This is acceptable during the normal ebb and flow of a game but as the pool stages evolve into play-off clashes, it will not be good enough and teams will score points with less possession.

Leinster found out against Clermont that playing catch-up in a European semi-final is not where you want to be.

What is equally worrying is the length of time it took the Leinster defence to adapt to the way Glasgow were attacking.

Johnny Sexton is the captain while Isa Nacewa is injured and it's encouraging to see the likes of Barry Daly, Noel Reid and Joey Carbery developing in the backline but there needs to be more leaders in this area whatever the age profile, and should not just be left to Sexton.

On the same note, losing at least two of your own lineouts in succession questions the ability of the opposition as they did not capitalise on Leinster's repetitive weakness in this area.

Nevertheless, there are signs that this team is coming together and there is stability in certain positions and sub-units.

Look at the back-row, the squad's most competitive area.

Josh van der Flier is the squad's most out-and-out number seven yet Leinster still have plenty of options to cover his injury-enforced absence. Sean O'Brien's return to fitness this week is timely, with Dan Leavy another quality option.

Rhys Ruddock's form will keep him at six for Leinster and should be for Ireland too, which leaves the No 8 position to fill. Jack Conan has had some great performances but we cannot forget about Jordi Murphy.

If it wasn't for his injury last year against the All Blacks he would have been a Lion over the summer. He is a player, if given enough of a run of games, who will be man of the match week in, week out.

With Robbie Henshaw back and the rest of the Lions hitting form, there is more stability and consistency in what will be the best XV come April and May.

Cian Healy's return to form and fitness will prove interesting from an Ireland perspective and adds a nice bit of competition in Leinster's front-row.

As the team progresses through the various campaigns we now approach international season.

Leinster, of course, with their vast squad will survive better than most provinces but it's time that they set a precedent and made it that bit harder for the powers that be in the IRFU to interfere with player management in the province.

Obligations

Yes, I know there are contractual obligations for the players to bow to the higher power but Leinster need to be that bit more selfish this season and make sure their squad is as prepared as possible for the business end this season, even if it means irritating Joe Schmidt and Co.

Tomorrow's game against Ulster should not break Leinster's stride and as usual it's a game that provides a stern test to the resilience of the squad while the internationals are away,but that doesn't make it any more appealing.

Ulster have nowhere near the squad of Leinster but will make it difficult for the away team. A win in Belfast at any time of the year is a welcome boost.

Even in the Kingspan Stadium, Leinster's run of form should continue.

Irish Independent

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