Sport Rugby

Thursday 14 December 2017

O'Connor urges fringe players to stand up & take a chance

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor is demanding his fringe players to take their opportunity over what he describes as a "crucial period" for the province.

The Australian has to plan without the majority of his first-team players who are away with Ireland on international duty but with four Pro12 games coming up in that window, he expects players to put their hands up for selection before the final part of the season.

Leinster host the Dragons at the RDS on Sunday and O'Connor said he has learned how to cope with the loss of so many players after he was forced to do the same this time last season.

"It's a little bit difficult but then again it's an opportunity for the other guys in the group to get some competitive rugby, which is really positive," he maintained.

"Those guys have been working very, very hard and doing a great job to get through to the semi-final of the B&I Cup. They're very excited to get an opportunity to play with the senior team in the Pro12.

"The tough part is when you've got that next tier of guys who are injured which we had in November, that was a challenge.

"It's not a new dynamic and it doesn't take away the frustration, it's something that you get accustomed to."

The Welsh side won't have the same selection headaches, with the core of their side still with the region, which O'Connor said makes them a dangerous outfit.

Dragons lie third from bottom and have won just three of their 13 games this season but nevertheless, O'Connor isn't taking them for granted as Leinster look to continue their push up the table.

The reigning Pro12 champions are unbeaten in 2015, with their only league defeat in the last eight coming against Munster over the Christmas period.

"They're pretty stable," O'Connor said of the Dragons. "They'll lose (Toby) Faletau but the rest of their group is pretty consistent.

"They haven't had fantastic results in the league so far but they've had the opportunity to play over the last couple of weeks in the LV Cup to develop some combinations.

"They've got blokes back from injury who haven't featured too much for them so far this year.

"They'll have plenty of continuity but again, at home in RDS, the guys are very excited about putting a performance on Sunday."

Leinster's unbeaten record at the RDS now stretches to 21 games, and the last time Dragons managed a win over the them was in December 2009.

With Leinster's recent primary focus being on European matters, O'Connor admitted that they hadn't spent too much time analysing the Dragons but said he doesn't need reminding of what they'll bring to the RDS on Sunday.

"We haven't seen much of them just because of circumstance. We haven't actually reviewed any of their games because of the opposition we've played in Europe more recently," he said.

"We aren't overly familiar with them but we know what they'll deliver. They're very, very physical.

"They've got some very good players, particularly their nine and 10 - (Richie) Rees and (Jason) Tovey guide them around the park very well. We'll have to make sure we're on top of things."

15,000 tickets have already been sold for Sunday's game and O'Connor said that he and his players are "very excited about putting out a quality performance" at the RDS for the first time in a month.

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