Tuesday 21 August 2018

Victor Costello: Leinster to provide final flourish and cap stunning season with more silverware

Jack Conan (right) celebrates with James Lowe, Jordi Murphy and Devin Toner after scoring Leinster’s try last week. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jack Conan (right) celebrates with James Lowe, Jordi Murphy and Devin Toner after scoring Leinster’s try last week. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Victor Costello

In times gone by, Leinster would have been forgiven for dropping their guard after a European title success.

Talk amongst the squad about refocusing because Munster were the next game was easy, but physically performing would have been the tough part.

A loss in the Guinness PRO14 semi-final would certainly would have taken the wind out of Leinster's sails, but the flip side is that it would have been easy to get mentally prepared for this game and a long build-up to it would not have been necessary.

Whether Munster are in form or not, there's one thing they will always bring to a game and that is intensity - particularly at the breakdown.

This is as much a mental tactic as it is physical.

Bullying teams at ruck time has been part of their culture since Munster broke on to the European scene in the mid-1990s.

Leinster managed to not only sustain this pressure but to control the intensity of the game themselves.

This forced Munster into errors that would not be their norm.

The mental part of this intensity is an attitude that manifests itself in urgency in all matters on the pitch - communication, decision-making and execution.

Leinster also played smart rugby and were able to intercept possession meant for Keith Earls and the in-form Andrew Conway.

Munster, of course, are never beaten until the final whistle and as usual the game did not pass without out some controversy.

The cheap shot by Jean Kleyn at ruck time on in-form playmaker Ross Byrne was reckless.

Leinster played the game as a united squad. This is a trait that Munster once had, but now have lost and make no mistake about it, it will take a while to get back.

As the individual success of each province shifts over the seasons, the value of the provincial rivalry will stand the test of time.

Barring injury, it has been true over the years that an inter-pro game before a high-profile final or cup game is the best warm-up a province can have.

Scarlets can say what they want and try and plan according to their talk, but it won't work with this Leinster side, because they are currently pretty much unbeatable.

Teams cannot cope with the work-rate in their engine room, as well as the physicality in the backline.

Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jordi Murphy and the now back-to-his-best Jack Conan completely blew Munster off the ball.

The problem for any opposition at the moment is that these players and others can do it repetitively for 80 minutes.

The lessons from last season's PRO12 semi-final have been well and truly learned and in the European semi-final against Scarlets, the Welsh side could not live with Leinster in this area.

This, of course, is causing a level of frustration with the Welsh side suggesting that an assault on Johnny Sexton would be part of their new game-plan.

Of course this is easier said than done but clearly at the wrong time of the season, the Scarlets have lost their focus.

There is no doubt that when given the ball they are capable of scoring tries and they have been the form Welsh side for a number of seasons now, but the window in which Scarlets were a threat to Leinster has passed.

That said, the dry weather and ground will suit them and their coach Wayne Pivac is among the best in the business.

Scarlets know how to beat Leinster but Leinster won't let them implement their plan.

It is also a possibility that they may want it more and desperation in a contact sport will always favour a win, but Leinster have that winning feeling and will not want to relinquish that in the last game of the season.

For some it will be the possibility of a double, others a treble if you count the Grand Slam but the fourth meeting of these sides this season will end up in a home win - providing a day to enjoy for all involved and a great end to a well-managed and successful season.

Well done to all.

Irish Independent

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