Saturday 16 December 2017

Victor Costello: Young players must learn that success is built away from the bright lights

A year on and more experience should see players like Jack Conan even more competitive next season
A year on and more experience should see players like Jack Conan even more competitive next season

Victor Costello

It doesn't seem to be getting better for Leinster this season and after last Friday's drab game against Treviso, most of the supporters have never welcomed the end of the season like this before.

With a European Champions Cup place secure for another season, which was a goal before last Friday, Leinster can now somewhat relax.

At some stage, they will address how they found themselves in this situation, but that is a discussion for another day.

The highlight of last Friday's game was of course the appreciation shown to both Gordon D'Arcy and Shane Jennings.

While D'Arcy reached heights and longevity in the game that will unlikely be seen again, Jennings, an international, rose to the top in Europe for both Leinster and Leicester and was highly regarded in both clubs and countries.

With one game against Edinburgh to come and with most of the team fully focused on the World Cup, it will be very difficult for the Leinster management to encourage a solid performance from their charges and at this stage you would think that most of the motivational material would be either used up or over-used.

When the final whistle is blown tomorrow evening, the start of next season should begin. There are a few hard questions that Leinster will have to ask themselves in the coming weeks in order to cleanse themselves from a season of discontent.

Discipline has been a problem throughout and the amount of yellow cards and penalties given against them was probably twice more than any other.

We have spoken before about how a lack of discipline shows distrust in the team's defensive system and also a lack of respect for those around you, including the coaching staff.

The players also have to acknowledge that during the campaign, their performances were not on par with those when on international duty.

Matt O'Connor will put up with a lot of stick for the next few months and as the professional game demands, probably rightly so.

Once he has soaked up all this pressure, he needs to set his stall out for next season and get tougher on his squad.

While demanding better performances from his players, he needs to battle with the IRFU for all of Leinster's resources, in order to ensure the availability of his players.

In the early part of last season, O'Connor and his management team put trust in players and for a while Leinster's squad was building quite nicely when the front-line players were unavailable.

Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Dominic Ryan and Darragh Fanning were some of the players making a splash. A year on and more experience should see those players even more competitive next season.

The Leinster fans at the time figured that with the squad building, if momentum and performances kept both competitions alive, then the team could push for the finals in both.

Unfortunately this didn't come about, but the development of the squad is not lost.

One would have expected the senior players to have the pressure on them to perform over the last few months and rightly so, but moving forward for Leinster will be dependent on the younger crop.

They need to rebuild and they have the squad to do it.

While every player deserves part of the glory and success that Leinster have come to expect over the last few years, the younger players will have to learn that this comes with hard work away from the shining floodlights of the RDS or the Aviva Stadium.

The reward will be to play with the senior players when they come back from World Cup duty.

If Ireland don't win the World Cup, the onus will be on the younger players to keep the standard high.

What the management need to take from this season, is that tough decisions in selection proved to be the wrong ones.

If Leinster had a smaller squad and had less of a choice, they would have had the same 15 for many of the games that they made those wrong selection choices for.

This probably would have resulted in enough consistency and better results.

Unlike most teams in Europe, Leinster do not need to recruit this year. Girvan Dempsey's success with the academy should ensure that more development players come through next season.

Isa Nacewa, the crowd favourite, may well be the factor that keeps feet on the terraces while Leinster rebuild.

In the meantime, against Edinburgh tomorrow, maybe they can prove that rugby and sport can change in a week.

Irish Independent

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