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Saturday 10 December 2016

Blues must find the clinical edge

Leinster’s Rob Kearney is back to boost the Blues for tonight’s RDS clash against Edinburgh Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Rob Kearney is back to boost the Blues for tonight’s RDS clash against Edinburgh Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster are sitting pretty on top of the Guinness Pro 12 competition, albeit on the same points as Connacht but with a better win record.

Leinster's home semi-final qualification is now in their own hands, and that is a huge relief given that Leinster do not have to rely on results elsewhere as long as they just keep winning.

As a bonus for tonight's clash against Edinburgh (RDS, 7.35) Leon Cullen's men welcome back their Irish full-back Rob Kearney who must be chomping at the bit to play again after an injury disrupted Six Nations campaign.

Eager

Kearney will be eager to show Joe Schmidt that he is bang in form ahead of the end of season Irish tour to South Africa.

But fellow Internationals prop Marty Moore and flanker Seán O Brien must still sit out a few more weeks rehab owing to hamstring strains.

To be honest the amount of hamstring injuries affecting Irish players in recent years needs a much closer look. It can't be mere coincidence.

Edinburgh always present as a potential 'banana skin' game for Leinster especially away from home, but for me the Scottish side have been too up and down this season to knock Leinster off their lofty perch.

They also play a brand of rugby that the best defensive system in the Pro 12, Leinster, can easily handle.

What Leo Cullen will be want to see this weekend is a combination of the grit and physicality they produced against Munster, especially in defence where Leinster were excellent, but with some more added attacking prowess.

The foundations are in place, especially in the tackle, it is just that the mentality of playing open and expansive rugby is not quite there just yet. It needs fine-tuning.

Leinster created plenty of scoring opportunities against Munster, but there was still just a lack of clinical invention to some of Leinster's play, hopefully tonight Leinster can build some sort of cushion points-wise, then they can unleash the shackles a bit more look to offload and capitalise in line-breaks from what is an exciting backline on paper.

Some excuses can be made given that Cullen has used over 50 players to date this season and this can often stem continuity and momentum as combinations come and go, but the good thing is that Leinster are now at the business end of the season and every player wants to be involved. Competition for positions is healthy.

One area of Leinster's play that will have to be addressed following the Munster match was their lineouts.

At times in the Aviva it did not seem that the communication between the hooker and catcher was there, the ball often being thrown into no man's land.

Fantastic

Seán Cronin is a fantastic and dynamic player around the field and has given great service to both club and country, but Leinster's lineout needs to be tidied up and often the best way to do that is keep the calls simple, after all in 6ft 10 inch second-row Devin Toner you have one of the tallest players in the game - it shouldn't be an issue but it is.

For probably that reason Richardt Strauss has been selected as hooker for tonight's duel.

You still wonder if modern hookers spend enough time practicing the art of throwing the ball in. To be honest sometimes by bulking up it seems to restrict the hookers ability to throw the ball in, it seems by increasing muscle mass around the shoulders and neck for scrummaging purposes, the modern hooker loses the flexibility to be able to perform his other main duty ie a straight, accurate throw to the lineout.

It is not just Leinster, most hookers struggle.

I was delighted to see Leinster centre Garry Ringrose being called into Ireland's enlarged training squad for South Africa along with Connacht's outstanding player this season - Matt Healy.

Healy was fantastic against Grenoble last week operating at 15, creating two tries and scoring one himself, he is a serious option on the hard grounds in South Africa and on form deserves a call up.

Ringrose is a more difficult proposition.

Joe Schmidt has already indicated that he needed more physical development and that for this season the Pro 12 was a good learning process, so to take him to South Africa would seem a contradiction in policy, but taking Ringrose as a tourist to train with the team and let him experience what international touring is about would be a very good idea.

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