Sport Rugby

Sunday 17 December 2017

There's no such thing as a low-key game for fringe players

Darragh Fanning in action during squad training
Darragh Fanning in action during squad training

Victor Costello

Time off during the season, be it through injury or due to international schedules, causes a ripple through the minds of professional rugby players.

Expectation of selection in Irish squads coupled with maintaining desired focus on the daily Leinster requirements creates a workload that accelerates time through this period.

A professional player can spend time in the gym and in the training pitch but can only really rate himself and his development in the field of play.

Timing-wise, this weekend's fixture against the Newport-Gwent Dragons will not generate much appeal for supporters and those outside the squad.

Yet like all low-key games, if they aren't approached in the right frame of mind, they come back to bite at the end of the season.

Any game where Leinster are without their front-liners gives others a chance to prove their worth. While this season has seen more numbers roll through the team sheets, there has not been a season to date in Leinster's history that has unearthed as many top-quality players for both now and the future. Once players like these get a taste of the front line, their expectation for further selection remains a priority for the rest of the season.

The experience from these outings is crucial but the interesting development this year has been not only the crucial game time received by some Leinster apprentices but the impact they have had on their arrival.

Darragh Fanning, Luke McGrath and Jack Conan have not only provided selection headaches for the big games but their demand for excellence and budding leadership qualities have been evident throughout some of Leinster's low moments this year.

The word leadership has been talked about for years in rugby circles, and it's worth mentioning in relation to last weekend's international against Italy. There were times in the past when a team would have one captain and nobody else had a right to talk to anybody, particularly the referee.

As the game progressed through professionalism, players were encouraged to take leadership roles, which resulted in various coffee mornings, committees and sub-committees in camps.

From the outset, when media sources complain that a team lacks leadership the fault normally goes on the captain and not those around them. So what is leadership?

Leadership is an ability in a player to fulfil his own role in his position, while having the ability to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both his team and his opposition in real time on the run. Leadership comes to the fore when a player has the capacity to weigh up all of the above while vocalising a strategy for his team to benefit from his decision-making process.

If one looks back at the Wasps game, Jamie Heaslip and Eoin Reddan were a prime example - their loss when they went off the pitch even had the referee reacting differently to the game around him.

It is in the low-key games that leadership and experience can be nurtured on an ongoing basis.

Dragons have been an old rival of Leinster throughout the years. They are not the team they were then but the still have a dogged mentality and love the physical battle.

Sunday's game will be hard for players to keep their focus and the timing is not great for the RDS loyal support; however, these are the games that stand to the team at the end of the season.

While being a proud Welsh side, Dragons just don't have the same strength in depth. Beating the Dragons in Leinster's own back yard should not be a problem; having the chance to experiment and adjust for what's ahead is the priority for Leinster.

The RDS provides a haven for this team's success but the development of a ruthless edge needed to claim silverware this season comes from within.

Irish Independent

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