| 8°C Dublin

Schmidt's men embracing core strengths to get up for Challenge


Leinster’s Devin Toner wins a lineout during the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Wasps at Adams Park on Friday night

Leinster’s Devin Toner wins a lineout during the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Wasps at Adams Park on Friday night

Leinster’s Devin Toner wins a lineout during the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final victory over Wasps at Adams Park on Friday night

Maybe once, just once, this Leinster side would play a complete 80 minutes – a concentrated effort which would last the entire match.

Maybe it's just not in them and they don't have to, but they can be a very infuriating side to watch and there were moments in Friday night's match in this staccato performance where you asked yourself the question, 'why do they do that?'

For the last few weeks, Leinster have been playing in the bus lane. There were moments on Friday night when they returned to the fast lane and when they did they returned to being the most dangerous side in the northern hemisphere.

Wasps were gamey and competitive but got burned by a 15-minute burst of uncompromising excellence from the Heineken champions. As soon as they got into the rhythm, Wasps looked as doomed as a virgin on a first date with Rod Stewart – they had nothing to counter Leinster's ferocity and thirst for blood and their power and momentum was utterly compelling. Wasps had no answer.

Unlike the national side it would seem that Leinster have no problems scoring in the second half where they managed to post an additional 28 points. Two penalties by Madigan and a try by Ross and Kearney sealed the deal. It was at this stage that Leinster had changed their game plan and managed to keep the ball for long periods of time. Indeed it was difficult to remember the times when Ian Madigan went to kick the ball.

For the first 15 minutes of the second half the stats showed that Leinster had 80 per cent possession. Ireland had 80 per cent possession against Scotland in Murrayfield but all that ball seemed to weigh heavily on them. Yet Leinster's cold-blooded approach saw them put the Wasps away with very little the north Londoners could do to stop the onslaught.

Leinster embraced their core strengths and values. They seemed to be much fitter than the Aviva Premiership side and I'm sure the prime focus for Dai Young and his Wasps side was to try to deny Leinster quick ball. They did this to a degree in the first half as their tacklers never bothered their arse to roll away from the tackle zone, but Leinster got greater numbers into the breakdown and Isaac Boss had silver service as the quality of the ball presented at the area was near enough the best Leinster have produced all season.

Annoyingly, after this quick-fire burst, Leinster, as they normally do, sat back and invited Wasps to come at them. Leinster conceded some sloppy tries and the two scored by Tom Varndell were down to a serious fall-off in performance levels by Leinster defensively.

With Toulouse now out of the competition after putting out a half-arsed team against Perpignan, Leinster are hot favourites to win it and should have more than enough in the arsenal to beat an unquantifiable Biarritz side in Dublin. Leinster will get better too, their injury concerns – Strauss, McFadden and D'Arcy – will improve. Strauss and McFadden both looked well off the pace on Friday night while D'Arcy looked very sharp but still a long way off a mischievous man-of-the-match performance awarded to him.

Brian O'Driscoll will return next week and while George Michael would assert that 'guilty feet ain't got no rhythm', the three-week break will have done him no harm. If O'Driscoll had been playing on Friday night, it could have been 70.

Leinster have an ethical and moral dilemma here in relation to selection for the business end of the season. It was mooted that Jonny Sexton might have been available for Friday night's match but you would have serious questions about picking him now.

It would be cruel if Sexton's career ended without playing another game for Leinster. He has had a profound influence on their fortunes over the last four years. The fact is he will be heading to Racing Metro 92 next season and for the purposes of continuity and rewarding truly excellent form can you, in conscience, drop Madigan? Twenty-eight points in an open game doesn't really tell you everything but there are indicators which would suggest that in certain instances he is a better bet than Sexton. His place kicking for the season has been superior and Friday night's try was his tenth this term; no other outhalf in Europe has come even close to that number.

Madigan's ability to attack the gain line, again, is without equal in Europe. His distribution and his ability to wrap around is on a par with Sexton's and only his game management and his kicking game is behind Sexton, although week by week you can see this improve steadily. I hope Jimmy Gopperth realises that he will be doing an awful lot of bench-warming next season.

Joe Schmidt has a serious decision to make, that is of course if he is in a position to make that decision. Purely from a parochial point of view I think Leinster would struggle to find a replacement who would come remotely close to Schmidt's quality if he did decide to take the Irish job. Some of the clowns who have been mooted as contenders wouldn't even be in his class and the fact is that Schmidt is the best coach for the Irish job.

Leinster's Lions contenders of Cian Healy, Seán O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney did their chances no harm on Friday night and Heaslip looks like he could be a strong contender if he keeps playing the way he did.

Sexton and O'Driscoll both need to get some game time, but there is a strong chance that all six of them will go.

Irish Independent