Saturday 22 October 2016

Blues in the right mood

Game management of Sexton will be key to making last-eight

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and scrum coach John Fogarty. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Leinster head coach Leo Cullen and scrum coach John Fogarty. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

The wide-wide game Leinster employed in the PRO12 League until Munster came to Dublin town could be back on the menu for The Champions Cup.

It is no trade secret that the French Top-14 is a brutally, one-paced, truck-it-up-athon in which magnificent muscle and a gold-plated goal-kicker matters more than anything else.

While Leinster will have to earn the right to go wide, at times, by punching it up the guts of the Castres defence, they will have to look to space for their game to breathe on Saturday.

"Running into big French teams, we're going to get gobbled up," said Leinster coach Leo Cullen.

"We need to put a bit more shape on our attack, which we have spent a lot of time working on.

"But, it is about recognising some of the opportunities there and to get into that space."

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Leinster's embryonic change, compared to the previous two seasons, of moving the ball early and often is still based on the twin engines of scrum and lineout.

Some things never change in this game.

"The set-piece battle is going to be huge against those two French teams," said the former second row.

It is just as well Cian Healy is getting back to his old self and Seán O'Brien - an outside bet for round one - is nearing the completion of his rehabilitation from a serious hamstring injury.

The list of nominees to back up Devin Toner in the second row is more than adequate as Hayden Triggs, Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle and Ross Molony all offer something different.

Perhaps, the selection there will reveal something of the game plan.

The way Munster made a beeline for Leinster's try-line through their motoring maul would have filled Casttres with optimism. "You can't give up those metres at maul in particular because if you watch the Top 14 you watch a lot of drives," Cullen said.

Okay, there was nothing on show at The Aviva that would have the best in Europe shaking in their boots.

But, there were consistently bright aspects there for all to see.

"I suppose the way we managed the game," said Cullen.

This is rugby-speak at Leinster for the way Jonathan Sexton turned the screw.

It would have been comical if it wasn't so true, that one of the main benefits for Leinster this season is that their primary playmaker's head will not be full of Ireland calls from the World Cup.

They can take proper preparation and real momentum into their opening bout.

"Well, we've a few more games under our belt," said the coach. It's amazing to have players who understand and know the calls - some of them anyway."

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