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Wednesday 26 April 2017

Blues are over the moon

Potent Leinster in pole position for home quarter

Jamie Heaslip celebrates after victory over Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium. Pics: Sportsfile
Jamie Heaslip celebrates after victory over Northampton Saints at the Aviva Stadium. Pics: Sportsfile

There is no rest for the wicked or the wonderful. Leinster coach Leo Cullen will have precious little time to savour what has been a productive back-to-back gathering of maximum points and valuable experience in The Champions Cup.

Their reward for the positivity of their play accrued a third harvest of five points from the nine tries they rained down on Northampton Saints to take command of Pool Four.

The indiscipline of Montpellier was their downfall in a 29-23 defeat at Castres Olympique yesterdayfternoon.

This leaves Leinster holding a five-point gap on their French rivals Montpellier.

The Irish province has already collected 20 tries from four rounds compared to the miserable five from six rounds last season.

Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Northampton’s Jamie Gibson and Api Ratuniyarawa. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong is tackled by Northampton’s Jamie Gibson and Api Ratuniyarawa. Photo: Sportsfile

It has them well-placed to secure a home quarter-final with all eyes turning towards Montpellier at The RDS in the middle of January.

Significant

Before then, there is the significant business of two PRO12 inter-provincials away to Munster on St Stephen's Day and at home to Ulster on New Year's Eve.

"Two games in five days is always tough, especially two games of that level, particularly when the team you're playing second is coming off an eight-day turnaround.

"I think we're a bit disadvantaged with the way those fixtures have fallen or have been arranged. But, we'll get on with it and manage it as best we can.

"Then, we have a six-day turnaround with Zebre - that's three games in 11 days - and then other games get scheduled on Tuesday or Wednesday for the Champions Cup."

The disintegration of Northampton from a force to be reckoned with into a club in disarray has been a saddening descent.

For what it was worth, Leinster will still view a bad start as reason enough to test their composure.

When George Pisi shot up out of the line to intercept Luke McGrath's pass to Ross Byrne for a length of the pitch seven points to make it 13-5 in the 22nd minute, it could have been a turning point in what was looking like a competitive game.

There are always lessons to be learned even from a 60-13 victory, despite the fact The Saints just lost all faith in themselves.

"On another day going 13-5 behind gets you in trouble because you're chasing a game.

"I thought the lads showed good composure," said Cullen.

"We talked about it that if we do get into a situation where we are behind, it's how you manage your way out of it.

"That's definitely a learning point. Against the best sides in Europe, you don't want to start the game 13-5 down because it does affect the way you play and the confidence levels of your team."

The plan for Europe is panning out quite nicely given the furrowed eyebrows that would have greeted Leinster's draw in the summer.

It would now seem the disaster that was last season was short-term pain suffered for long-term gains.

The prospect of a home quarter-final is a realistic one to everyone outside those who have to make it happen.

Cullen knows if you take your eyes off the road you are on, you can end up in the ditch.

"We'll see. You've obviously got to win your group first. Montpellier and Castres are two strong teams with a lot of resources. It's early days yet.

"We're trying to navigate our way through the pool and obviously finish on top."

Of course, what is great for Leinster is just as good for Ireland as exposure for players means a chance to impress other further up the food chain.

"It's not rocket science," added Cullen.

"It is just everyone working hard and trying to get better all the time.

"For starters, we want be able to bring guys through.

"Young players have aspirations to play for Ireland growing up. They see the green jersey first.

"How do they get there? They are growing up somewhere in Leinster, so you want to them play for Leinster."

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