Monday 23 April 2018

Players need to take heat off Schmidt

Facing Munster will prove if Leinster are up for fight, says Brendan Fanning

Had Leinster's season started better then we'd be talking this week about the drive for five.

Since the Croke Park demolition of the Reds in 2009, Leinster have emptied their rivals in the RDS and Thomond Park and again in the RDS, in that order. And -- remarkably -- without conceding a try. So Saturday's fixture in Aviva immediately presented itself as an opportunity to push into record territory.

Now Leinster fans are asking themselves if one win from five starts would constitute a record? For consolation they should go back to the early days of the Michael Cheika regime which, despite getting to a European Cup semi-final in 2006 (which ended traumatically against Munster), were littered with away days like they had on Friday in Edinburgh, a city which is viewed with some ambivalence in Donnybrook.

The lack of leadership was disturbing, and the sight of Ed O'Donoghue hobbling off with a knee injury has the makings of trouble in the short term if it turns out to be serious. Well more trouble, for already Leinster's defence is struggling. The signs are pretty clear that not replacing Kurt McQuilkin was not an inspired move. Perhaps the best way out of it in the short term is to call on Les Kiss, who you would imagine could spare some time from his IRFU gig.

As it is, Kiss is having some input to the provinces, but Leinster's need would seem to be more urgent. Urgent enough to overcome whatever political issues there might be for one of the national management to be tending one of the provinces -- and it's worth remembering that Leinster were amenable to sharing Alan Gaffney when he answered Ireland's call.

Inevitably there will be a few hollers now about the wisdom of hiring a man with no experience of the head coach's role. The only thing Joe Schmidt has got wrong -- aside from not ensuring there was defence help -- is his timing, in arriving for a season when his teamsheet will be tampered with by national concerns. Which is hardly his fault. Rather this would be an opportune time for his players to take some heat off him.

Of course Tony McGahan has to battle with the same handicap regarding who he can pick and when, but at least his players are up for the fight. And none more than Johne Murphy who has made an immediate impact at 13 as well as on the wing.

Two tries on Friday in Glasgow (he played the last 10 minutes at centre) were a natural follow-on from where he left off against the Ospreys the previous week, where every time he got the ball he did something positive.

"I wouldn't say I was in my comfort zone in Leicester -- they pushed you a lot -- but you feel you have to prove something when you're coming into a new place," Murphy says. "You have to knuckle down that bit harder when you're in new surroundings and I just kind of got on with it. When I was in England, every time I got the ball in my hands I was looking to do stuff and I think it's something I was good at. If I have to run into someone I'll do it but I always try and make gain lines.

"It's something I've tried to continue here and I suppose at 13 you're given the opportunity a bit more than when you're playing in the back three. That's why my ball carries are up higher than they would be when I'm on the wing."

And the way Munster are playing? "Brilliant. It's why you pick up the ball when you're six or seven -- you want to run with it and pass. We had a few meetings in pre-season and I think the lads felt that they could have played a lot more. Everyone made a statement that they want to play it and if it's on and you're underneath your posts then it's on."

Friday night's walk around will be his first visit to the new stadium, and the next day will be his first spin in an interpro. "I can't wait," he says.

"It looks like it's going to be a sell-out and all my family are coming up to it. I've played Leinster in the Heineken Cup but an occasion like this doesn't come round very often and it's the one you look forward to." He's not the only one.

Sunday Independent

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