herald

Sunday 24 September 2017

Blues set new year targets

Big ambitions for Leinster while other provinces play catch-up

It's the time for New Year's resolutions in Irish rugby.

Although the game here appears to be in a state of good health at the moment, the professional arena demands that standards of practice have to be constantly updated and progressed.

And you can be sure the provincial coaches have set out ambitious goals for the year ahead.

JOE SCHMIDT, LEINSTER

New Year Resolution: Be the best

When your luck is in, your luck is in. Schmidt could not hide his empathy for Eric Elwood on New Year's Day. Leinster played conservatively, executed a classic smash-and-grab and returned under the cover of darkness from Galway with four points.

It was more than they deserved. Isa Nacewa's flawless kicking was good enough for a two-point victory that confirmed a six-point lead over the Ospreys at the head of the PRO12 League, with third-placed Glasgow Warriors a whopping 10 points back.

This gives Leinster great room for manoeuvre in the second-half of the season as Schmidt schemes to go one better than his first year in charge by capturing a remarkable league and Heineken Cup double.

TONY McGAHAN, MUNSTER

New Year Resolution: Do in the PRO12 as you do in the Heineken Cup

Matters European couldn't be any more positive.

"I think we would be pretty satisfied with where we are at this point in time. From a Heineken Cup perspective, we couldn't have asked for a better position," said McGahan.

It is in the more fundamental environment of the PRO12 League that Munster have failed to find the consistency of last season, having won seven and lost five.

"We need to get back to winning tough games on the road in the PRO12 when we are missing key players. But we are in a stable position," he added.

BRIAN McLAUGHLIN, ULSTER

New Year Resolution: Do in the PRO12 as you do in the Heineken Cup

Coming into the provincial derby against Munster, there was speculation that McLaughlin's job could be on the line if Ulster came unstuck.

Thankfully, the Irish national camp denied Tony McGahan of the big guns he wanted to fire his side to victory in Belfast. The Northern province is now at a breakeven return of 50pc -- six wins from 12 matches -- in the PRO12 League.

This is not acceptable for the substantial investment in South African beef and the superb signing of All Black John Afoa to shoulder the weight of the scrum.

ERIC ELWOOD, CONNACHT

New Year Resolution: Stop the Rot

How does an honourable coach with a mounting injury crisis -- wing Brian Touhy (broken leg), flanker Johnny O'Connor (fractured eye socket) and prop Ronan Loughney (shoulder) -- stop the rot of 12 consecutive defeats?

"I was worried about wear and tear in the first week in September," said Elwood. "I'm not being cheeky. They're not excuses. They're just the facts."

Perhaps, it is true. You should be careful what you wish for, because the extra drain from four pre-Christmas Heineken Cup matches has shaved the bare Connacht squad of more players.

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