Monday 19 February 2018

Victor Costello: Underdogs tag can give O'Connor's men licence to cast off the shackles

Ben Te’o was in try-scoring form against the Dragons and Leinster fans will be hoping that there is more of the same from him against Toulon on Sunday
Ben Te’o was in try-scoring form against the Dragons and Leinster fans will be hoping that there is more of the same from him against Toulon on Sunday

Victor Costello

Over the last few days, Leinster have found themselves in uncharted territory. This crop of players has never before found themselves in the position they are in now.

A sloppy Pro12 campaign has been littered with unfortunate injuries early on in the season, and finally resulted in an exit from the coveted top-four position.

The management and players, like it or not, will have to endure the ongoing media dissection of their performances and demise in a competition that Leinster have dominated since its inception.

While the squad will think the whole rugby fraternity won't give them a chance on Sunday, sometimes this is a good position to be in as it puts the pressure on Toulon in front of their own supporters.

Any regression about the past is a waste of energy that will be needed to take on a Toulon side that, current performances aside, ultimately know the value of this Leinster team.

Last Sunday's game against the Dragons hurt for many reasons. It was a game that Leinster threw away with poor discipline and defence.

Leinster dominated for 30 minutes, which was an improvement on their performance the week before against Bath. They were varying their attack by both moving the ball wide and penetrating up the middle.

This was facilitated by a very consistent set-piece.

Ben Te'o was back with ball in hand as he had been a few weeks ago but he was strangely looking for the offload on most occasions.


If he pins his ears back and allows his team-mates to find and support him, he will do damage against Toulon.

Jimmy Gopperth found himself in space with his speed and agility and was almost shocked with his yardage.

Leinster's defence was better than it had been until they were forced to play with 14 men.

However, the timing of this loss could not be worse for both competitions but one would have to look at those positives. If it was mid-season, the pain of this loss would not be felt as badly.

But a few minor tweaks on last Sunday's performance and Leinster could still hit the right note this weekend.

Although Toulon respect them, Leinster have more moves and plays left on the training park than shown on match day.

The Toulon pack will not like being branded as old but moving them around the field this week will be a priority in Leinster's game-plan.

Referee Wayne Barnes has been spoken about this week for all the wrong reasons. His indecision and hesitancy are frustrating for not only both teams but supporters too.

Although fans groaned when he became centre stage for this game, in truth, he will frustrate Toulon more than Leinster. Leinster are more used to him than the Toulon players and crowd.

Being away from home and carrying the underdog tag will give Leinster a freedom they have not been used to with their traditional European success.

Normally, we would expect Matt O'Connor to have selected his best 15 last week for two reasons: to win the match and to gain some sort of consistency and familiarity in selection over the two games.

Going against tradition and resting players, O'Connor as coach has put his career on the line this weekend - although his hand may have been forced by the IRFU player welfare stipulations.

While in the cocoon of the Leinster training camp, I can't agree with all the decisions over the last few weeks.


Offering a new contract to Isa Nacewa and not Gordon D'Arcy seems odd to me.

D'Arcy's experience will be needed most (if he is not selected for the World Cup) during those weeks with a young Leinster team battling in the Pro12.

Nacewa has not played in two years, while D'Arcy is a current international with over 16 years of the most loyal service, and he showed last weekend that he is a much-needed member of the match-day 23.

Leinster are capable of putting in a performance and can pull their management out of the fire by doing so.

A side-effect to winning this weekend will be proving that D'Arcy's exit is not a last reminder of Leinster's Golden Age!

Irish Independent

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