Saturday 18 August 2018

Winning in Exeter would be the biggest statement in Leinster's recent history

Scott Fardy seems to have cleaned up the Leinster lineout. Photo: Sportsfile
Scott Fardy seems to have cleaned up the Leinster lineout. Photo: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

The age-old battle between the PRO14 and the Premiership will continue again over the next couple of weeks.

Provincial coaches will talk about blocks and phases of a season and how they can compartmentalise them for the greater good until the play-offs.

This next fortnight is a very small but important juncture that Leinster need to get right to make this season a success.

Exeter have come through a tough opening couple of months in their domestic campaign and have taken some big-name scalps in the process.

What is particularly noticeable is their proud home record.

They demolished Bath last weekend and the final score flattered a miserable Bath comeback in the final quarter.

Their work-rate in the back-row at the break-down area is world class and unfortunately for Leinster, Exeter will have a lot of respect for the Dublin side.

Once again the debate remains; continuous competitive rugby in preparation for Europe or a more relaxed PRO14 version which allows a side rest players while blooding others? Time will tell.

On the eve of European rugby for Leinster, there is no doubt they are in fine fettle.

Leinster can afford to lose this game once they win the home game next week.

That said, if they can win away in Exeter, that will be the biggest European statement in the last few years of the province's history.

If selection is right, the Leinster management will know they have figured out their play-off 23 for the end of the season.

If wrong, they have time to adjust to get it right.

The players will get a lesson in the ranting and raving English home crowd who fully expect a romping home win.

Leinster, on the other hand, have not been tested since their Glasgow away game and fundamentally will be hoping a lot goes right on the day.

What Leinster have is an abundance of options.

They have young players gaining experience ready to play.

They have seasoned players hitting form at the right time and they also have new recruits adding impetus to an already performing machine.

Yes, Leinster will be tested but Exeter are somewhat venturing into the unknown.

Leo Cullen's men are a side who are virtually impossible to prepare for.

Their strength and depth can provide different combinations in crucial positions that do not follow the same game-plan or form-line as the previous combination.

This itself will cause frustration to a regimented Exeter side and if Leinster can convince Exeter at home in the first 20 minutes why they were able to beat the powers of Europe in the past, then Leinster have the talent to win this game.

When you talk about the vast Leinster squad it's hard not to realise the severe dent that the loss of Jordi Murphy will be to the club.

Sometimes you have to be ruthless in this sport for individual goals and sometimes you have to be traditional and lament the loss of his power and pace in the blue jersey.

When Murphy was given a clean run of games, week in week out, he was a contender for man of the match for Ireland or Leinster.

Faithful

The performances he supplied for his home province will be missed by the RDS faithful but will still be enjoyed the green of Ireland in the future.

Who knows, maybe someday, hopefully, he will be back in town.

Leinster have a lot going for them this season apart from the rankings.

Their set-pieces are going well.

Scott Fardy seems to have cleaned up the lineouts and so far defence and attack have been strong in the high-profile games.

This week whether winning or losing, it's the recovery after the first game that will determine the overall success of these two fixtures.

Inevitably, it will be the home soil that keeps Leinster in pole position for the knockout stages.

Irish Independent

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