Friday 19 January 2018

Young guns' rise mean Blues no longer need to dread Test window

Harry Tritschler, left, and Darren Owens, from Curraghwood, Co. Wexford, show their colours at the RDS last weekend. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE
Harry Tritschler, left, and Darren Owens, from Curraghwood, Co. Wexford, show their colours at the RDS last weekend. RAMSEY CARDY/SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

Last season, the unusually long international windows left a bittersweet taste in the Leinster camp.

Leinster's representation in the Ireland squad for World Cup and Six Nations was significantly greater than their provincial and European rivals.

This meant there was a scramble to blood new players in the Pro12, while having to manage the same youngsters when the senior players returned.


As the season went on, expectation diminished and in the hard, unforgiving world of professional sport the knives were being sharpened for the Leinster management.

Roll on a year and the coaching landscape is a lot different. While there should be some kudos given to the recruitment of Stuart Lancaster, Leo Cullen deserves even more for requesting him.

With the arrival of Lancaster, Leo has been able to focus on the areas that made him the successful leader he was as a player, and the end result is that this international period should cause less disruption than times gone by.

Take last week's win over Connacht. Under normal circumstances, a team returning from a loss in France would be itching to win on home soil at all costs.

But, such is the belief in this Leinster squad, the management could rejig their selection and still expect a win over the league champions.

A nice scalp considering the lacklustre performance by Leinster the last time the sides met.

However, Leinster cannot be distracted by thoughts of revenge and grudge games because they are now in prime position for an assault on Europe.

It was clear last weekend that Leinster are a squad, while Connacht are a team, and without some front-liners from last season the Westerners suffer on the final pass.

The clinical destruction of Connacht's game-plan proves that Leinster can adapt their play and personnel to suit any team or competition.

Conversely, Connacht are in the midst of a second-season hangover and are too predictable to expect the same results this year.

Leinster needed fewer players at the breakdown than Connacht, which resulted in extra numbers in attack and defence.

All in all, the Leinster management have turned international attrition into an advantage.

These windows have not just unearthed good players, but also quality leaders.

Dan Leavy's rise has been incredible considering the competition for places in the back-row - he has forced his selection with a number of outstanding outings.

It's Leavy's work-rate that sets him apart: he is constantly punching holes around the park and his tackling is phenomenal.

Some of the youngsters who made breakthroughs last season - the likes of James Tracy, Luke McGrath and Ross Molony - have now become senior players.

Despite Leinster's recent success and growing confidence, the back-room staff would be foolish not to take stock of the defeat in Montpellier.

For a side now harbouring genuine title hopes - and on the eve of an away game to the league minnows - it is always prudent to be self-critical.

Montpellier squeezed Leinster's defence and offence and this hampered their precision game and cracks started to appear in their structure.


The game was a sharp reminder of what's to come in the final stages of Europe, when the margin for error gets tighter.

Against Zebre, Leinster can rest players and give valuable game time to others. The Italians are due respect but they can target maximum points.

This year, unlike last, Leinster can enjoy the international distractions rather than despairing of them.

Irish Independent

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