Sean Cronin hits back as he insists Blues ready for lift-off
IT'S not the fear of flying that gets to people; rather, one presumes, the fear of crashing.
After experiencing some mid-air drama of their own last weekend en route to Cardiff via Bristol, Leinster are probably glad that they only have a short spin to their next outing.
"I nearly pulled Marty Moore out of his seat," smiles Sean Cronin after last Saturday's aerial drama. "It wasn't as bad as it seemed, there was a lot of exaggeration about it all."
All of which may sum up Leinster's season: often struggling for take-off, rarely hitting the heights but without serious mishap. Not uncoincidentally, a much-changed Leinster picked up five points in Cardiff despite the diversion.
Castres, whose own fear of taking to the skies seems to extend itself well beyond the opening whistle in so many games, such is their appalling away record in Europe, are expected to be dutiful visitors to the RDS this weekend.
Leinster's supporters will expectantly await the five-try bonus that will both provide mathematical and psychological sustenance ahead of the definitive Round 6 tie in Coventry against Wasps.
Sometimes this term those expectations have suffered a crash landing. For all that, Leinster have secured more try-scoring bonus points in the league than any of their competitors this season, and they have also scored more Pro12 tries than any other team.
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"We know there's frustration out there," Cronin says, reminding us of his team's league record before we in turn remind him that others refute this.
Perception often trumps fact; hence the assertion on RTE recently that Leinster have scored fewer tries than all of their Irish competitors - actually, the reverse is true.
"Yeah, it's quite comical at times but again we're under no illusions that we need to play better, we're not playing to our potential," concedes the hooker.
"The blueprint is there, the coaches are giving us what we need to do, we just need to execute. And we're slowly getting there, we're just not quite there yet.
"We know that the crowd expect a lot. They have enjoyed a lot of success over the last number of years so we know that we have to go out and perform, get the crowd behind us and give them something to shout about.
"It would help us to get into the game as well.
"We know that we have to produce performances every week, and we haven't been too happy overall with how we've been going but we have developed over the last number of weeks, maybe the last month or so, aspects of our game."
Leo Cullen was part of the great Leinster team that peaked with their third European triumph in 2012.
That experience at once emboldens the squad he now coaches as they prepare for a defining run-in and also serves to fuel the persistent demands of those who, quite properly, pay their money at the gate and demand certain standards of excellence.
"The supporters are so important to us, so it is important that they have the voice in it," he says. "They supported us and made so many of those occasions great because they travelled in such great numbers and the expectation we have on us now is really positive.
"Sometimes the product is very attractive but because of the conditions and everything else that we play in sometimes it's not that attractive.
"It could be attractive to someone else - like me say! - and maybe that's the purist view. Everyone wants to be better here and I see it as only a positive thing that the outside support, or media, or whatever it is puts that positive pressure on us.
"Within reason. There are a few guys maybe that I have seen that have been singled out, which is grossly unfair and that is really disappointing, especially from some of the people that might point these things.
"But that's part and parcel of professional sport these days."
Often this season there has been a sense of a siege mentality at the province, which reminds some outsiders of their maiden European breakthrough.
Cullen begs - politely - to differ.
"I don't think we are in the same situation as back then," he demurs. "The team at that stage was really struggling in terms of when it came to the crunch, what do we actually do?
"Whereas now we struggled for a period where we had a lot of injuries and there was a lot of pressure placed on the group of players that we actually had, and that led to more pressure, us trying too hard and then not playing better, unfortunately.
"We still have a hell of a lot of work to do to get out of the pool. We knew it was going to be pretty tough.
"You see Quins winning at the weekend 32-12 against a Leicester side who are able to beat Toulon and Ulster.
"That's what we were up against in that back-to-back fixture. We had a 38-man squad and at one point we were struggling to get 23 out there.
"We muddled our way through, came from behind. Castres were very much in it, so we battled to get the win.
"We haven't played great in some of the Pro12 games for sure but we know we need to put in a really big performance against Castres."