herald

Saturday 3 December 2016

Leinster have to improve the final execution

Leinster full-back Rob Kearney
Leinster full-back Rob Kearney

Last weekend in the RDS nobody could fault Leinster's application or their heart, but at crucial times their final execution just let them down.

This weekend they need to marry both facets of the performance in equal quantity on what is seen as the second major step back to recovery.

Forget about Europe for a week, tomorrow Leinster travel to Scotstoun, home of the reigning Guinness Pro 12 champions Glasgow.

But at least they travel with form on their side, with an impressive six wins out of eight Guinness PRO12 outings.

However, the magnitude of the task is still huge, and the omens are not great. The last time that Leinster snuck home with a win in Glasgow was way back in 2012, and in all honesty they have probably travelled with better teams over the years and still lost.

Despite struggling to find the same sort of form they possessed in the last two or three years, Glasgow are still a hard nut to crack on home turf.

Another uplifting performance is paramount in giving Leinster confidence and winning momentum.

The word emanating from the Leinster management team has "been don't mention the war, namely next week's clash in Toulon" instead focus 100 per cent on what is in front of you first ie this trip to Glasgow.

They are dead right, the only way forward for Leinster, for the time being at least, is to concentrate on a competition they have a realistic chance of actually competing in this year.

That may seem a bit harsh but it is the grim reality of European rugby and may be for many years to come.

Some of the more experienced Leinster players are still hoping that if they were to win all their remaining games in Europe and get some fortuitous result elsewhere, then they could still qualify.

But Toulon's historical four-try backlash battering of Clermont last week in the French Top 14, coupled with the kick in the rear they received against Wasps in the Champions Cup would suggest to most knowledgeable rugby folk that back-to-back victories against last year's European champions is perhaps now the stuff of pipe dreams.

This weekend Leinster must focus on the positives, firstly their Pro 12 form and the emergence of a number of young Leinster players for the future.

The question still remains whether these players will be able to transform Leinster into another European force, or whether the Blues will seek more marquee players from abroad to bolster their chances?

While the Leinster Academy is proving very fruitful in developing players to provincial level, is it going to produce another era of golden players that are able to take on the best teams in France or England? Time will tell.

Embraced

This weekend Glasgow is the target, a team that over the years has embraced the very best of all the Scottish sides.

In some regards Glasgow have continued to persist with an expansive game-plan even when their national side failed to follow suit, and a lot of Glasgow's 15-man style is down to their innovative coach, former Scottish out-half Gregor Townsend.

A win for Leinster in a ground that is a notoriously hard place to win would be a huge shot in the arm before the visit to Toulon, but it will be very difficult.

Leinster showed plenty of heart last week against Ulster, and at times their first phase defence, as it had been against Bath, was excellent.

But again the problem wasn't in defence, heart or application but rather in the final execution of their play.

Like against Wasps before it all went horribly wrong.

Leinster again managed to get into good field position against Ulster only for a mistake or a breakdown in communication and continuity to deny them what should have been a much healthier looking scoreline.

Still at least Leinster won the battle up front and showed that despite failing in Europe, that they are at least learning from their mistakes.

Leinster have worked hard on their defence and set-piece game since the Wasps and Bath performances, and last week the Leinster scrum, maul and lineout looked a lot sharper than it had against the top European sides.

I guess the question begs, before Toulon, is were Leinster that improved, or were they just up against a vastly inferior pack in Ulster?

Glasgow away will be considered another step up on the road to France, but given Leinster's greater experience up front they should have the edge, despite again missing Seán O'Brien.

Glasgow live off other teams mistakes, especially given that they are prepared to move the ball from most areas of the park, which makes them attractive to watch but also very vulnerable without the ball, and this year they have lacked that cutting edge they had last year, partly due to some defections from their squad at the end of last year.

Like a lot of the teams who are reliant on their international stars, Glasgow have stuttered a bit this year. A loss to the Scarlets blotted an incredible home record, but they did bounce back with a 31-19 home win over the Ospreys and then a 35-30 away win in Cardiff, it shows that on their day what they are capable of.

However, Leinster should score a historical win.

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