Wednesday 19 June 2019

Leinster seeking subtle defensive improvements

Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Leinster scrum coach John Fogarty. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Monday morning in Leinster HQ, and the squad have just been made sit through the video review session of their opening-day, last-gasp win in Cardiff.

On the face of it, a five-point return before another tough trip to Wales this weekend was an ideal start, yet the repeated defensive issues made for uncomfortable viewing for the relevant guilty parties.

Over the summer months, a huge emphasis was placed on eradicating the defensive flaws that saw Leinster opened up more regularly than they would have liked last year.

That they still managed to win both the Guinness PRO14 and Champions Cup said a lot about the character of the squad, and it says even more that they have been focusing on their shortcomings rather than basking in the glory.

Worrying

Leinster missed 23 missed tackles against Cardiff last Friday, which is a worrying statistic for any team at any level, let alone for the champions.

Stuart Lancaster has already publicly spoken about the need to tighten up defensively and when you take a brief look at the statistics, you can understand his concern.

In their 21 regular PRO14 season games last year Leinster conceded 46 tries, while the year before they leaked 47 in 22 games - compared to 2016 when the number was considerably lower at 27.

Leinster will always back themselves to outscore their opponents and with the firepower they posses, more times than not they will do so.

Having said that, conceding 32 points, including four tries on the road, is a recipe for disaster, so from that end it was no surprise that following yesterday's video session it was back to the drawing board when the squad took to the pitch.

"Defensively, (we are) looking at lineouts and looking to see what we can do with the lineout to make sure that we can get in to win the ball further up the lineout," scrum coach John Fogarty explained.

"Is our seam right? Are we folding properly around the corner? Are we getting nice width?

"They were the areas that we were looking at (in the video) this morning to make sure that we understand as a group how these one-on-ones, or missed tackles, how they happened and what was the cause?

"Sometimes it's a missed tackle, sometimes it's the system isn't quite right.

"That's what we looked at this morning, to make sure that we're addressing this. We're understanding it and now we can go out and stress them in training and see if we can do it better next week."

Cardiff had done their homework on Leinster and really should have finished off the champions when they opened up a 29-14 lead.

"There was little bits, like, on the ground they took the ball off us a few times," Fogarty continued.

"There was a lot of guys that ended up, Rhys (Ruddock), Barry Daly, Caelan Doris, all ended up belly-up.

"So we're working hard on trying to make sure guys get to ground with control, top shoulder is strong, good body position, and we opened up a little bit. That can happen when you're a little bit stressed or you go behind, you can get these things that happen.

"I think Cardiff did a great job at putting us under pressure, and then we start to make mistakes. Whether there's an easy penalty, (Michael) Benty didn't get back and get set - a little bit lazy out of the ruck, now he's not back, now we're pinged, now we're under more pressure.

"I think that pressure led to little things like that, the kicking or trying to force it a small bit."

Scarlets are unlikely to be as forgiving as their Welsh neighbours when they host Leinster on Saturday evening, and particularly not after the manner of their late defeat in Belfast.

Leinster will have Josh van der Flier (ACL) available for selection, while other fellow Ireland internationals such as Devin Toner and Jack Conan are also set to return.

Tough

"There's going to be an edge to that game, we played them four times last year, it's going to be tough," Fogarty added.

"That was a tough game (against Ulster) to lose for them, they did a lot of good things in the game.

"Again, when we're away from home discipline is going to be very important, that we're not putting ourselves under pressure and if we are can we react in the right way?

"We cannot be turned over on the ground as much. We have to be nice and smart where we play the game.

"They present a big wall of 14, so there'll be space for us to kick - we need to be smart with our kicks, a nice varied attack. It's going to be a tough game, but the lads are really, really aware of it.

"I'm not sure what's going to happen with them, they lost the two out-halves, so it'll be interesting to see their selection this week. But they are really well coached and (they have) a good squad."

Irish Independent

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