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Friday 18 August 2017

Ben is Blues' cup of Te'o

New Leinster man earmarked as O'Driscoll's successor at 13

Ben Te'o
Ben Te'o

Ben Te'o has been ordained by scrum coach Marco Caputo as the natural successor to Brian O'Driscoll at Leinster.

The journey from National Rugby League Grand Final winner with South Sydney Rabbitohs to British & Irish Cup Pool loser at Carmarthen Quins on Saturday must have been a grounding one.

He has come a long way from Australia to go a long way in Rugby Union.

The most significant fact at Carmarthen was that Te'o donned the number thirteen jersey where his defensive responsibilities are similar to those he was asked to wear in Rugby League.

These were just his first baby steps in a code Te'o played many moons ago at school before he will be let off the leash against Edinburgh in the Guinness PRO12 League on Friday night.

"He's gone from playing in front of 80,000 at ANZ Stadium to playing for an A team in Wales with eight people and a dog," said Caputo, to the Sydney Morning Herald.

"He'll get a taste of the real stuff against Edinburgh."

Head coach Matt O'Connor has already revealed how Te'o's attributes are best suited to the outside centre role, particularly for defensive decision-making, in what could be viewed as a similar set-up to Leicester Tigers where Manu Tuilagi carries many of the same physical tools.

"We wanted someone to come in to take up the position left by Brian O'Driscoll and we wanted someone with a physical presence," added Caputo.

"When you look at Ben, he ticks all the boxes. When he gets the ball we want him to take on the line. He rarely gets beaten in contact.

"O'Driscoll is an iconic player. We don't want Ben to be Brian O'Driscoll, we just want him to be a handful," continued Caputo.

Teo'o could be just the man Leinster need right now.

It was difficult to get away from the frustratnig fact that The Blues dominated the statistics without ever looking like scoring a try at Castres in Pool 2 of the Champions Cup on Sunday.

They held the ball for 63% of the time, spent 69% of the allotted 80 minutes in the Castres half of the pitch.

They made 114 carries against 65 by the French club; gained 313 metres against 173.

In terms of discipline, Leinster ceded six penalties to the home side's eleven.

The fact that they were parked in the right part of the pitch when Castres infringements occurred meant nine of those were within kicking distance.

Ian Madigan took advantage seven times to rack up the 21 points that translated into four in Pool 2 to go with the four of the previous week.

The three-time winners are joint-top in what already looks like a two-horse race with Conor O'Shea's Harlequins, the English club leading the way on a superior points-difference on the basis of beating Wasps at Adam Park on Sunday evening.

There were plaudits handed out to captain Jamie Heaslip's 19 carries of the ball, all for a comparatively unremarkable 63 metres.

But, these were the hard yards into and through contact by the captain.

It has always been the way of Leinster to manipulate, to outsmart, to design plays to unlock defences.

They just lacked a cutting edge in the south of France.

Leinster were also short of their standards without the ball. Maybe, it is time for an additional way forward in attack. And defence.

Castres had to make 119 tackles; Leinster had to make 54 tackles. But, crucially, there were eleven missed by Leinster players for a below-standard 83% success rate.

Even those who struggle with the basics of mathematics can calculate that this is greater than one-in-five. This is simply unacceptable.

Can you imagine the damage done were it Toulon or Clermont-Auvergne, or even Harlequins given such a liberal licence with the ball?

Ireland forwards Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy bring a special brand of physicality to Leinster. That mantle has moved onto the shoulders of Heaslip, hooker Sean Cronin and flanker Rhys Ruddock.

They have carried their share of the load. The truth, however, is the fewer the game breakers, the easier it is for the enemy of the week to make a plan to stop them dead.

For instance, Leinster have taken to using Cronin through the midfield, as an extra centre.

His direct, explosive power-running and particular skills set nearly always leads to a recycle rather than a link to continue an attack.

They won't need Cronin coming through the middle on Friday night because they will have Ben 'Freight Train' Te'o there to dominate that channel.

In attack and defence.

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