herald

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Time for Leinster to step up game

O'Connor's men need to lift performance levels

Ian Madigan
Ian Madigan

The Triple-A effect will take Leinster out of their current malaise and transport them to the right mental state in which to take on the twin threat of Wasps and Castres Olympique in the first two rounds of the Rugby Champions Cup.

The Irish province has lost its aura of invincibility in Europe and Wasps will be first up to test their current credentials at The RDS on Sunday week.

"There can be no better way for us as players to start our Champions Cup campaign in Dublin against a top side like Leinster," said Wasps' Matt Mullan.

There are two ways of evaluating this comment, made by the England prop this week.

Wasps will come with respect for what Leinster have achieved in Europe in the past or they will come with confidence for how Leinster have performed in the PRO12 this season.

"We pride ourselves at Wasps on our history in Europe, but we are a new group of players and we want to forge our own history in the new tournament," said Mullan.

The success of Wasps from the glory years of Warren Gatland, Shaun Edwards, Lawrence Dallaglio & company is long enough back so that it doesn't weigh on the current crop of professionals.

LEFTOVERS

There are precious few leftovers from 2004 and 2007. The coaches are gone. The players have retired.

However, these Wasps know what it is like to play under a duty of care for their club.

They felt the pressure of a play-off qualification against Stade Francias at the tail end of last season.

"We had to work hard at the end of last season to earn the right to play in the European Rugby Champions Cup by beating Stade Francais Paris twice in the play-off games," said Mullan.

"We will be going into the new tournament full of confidence and looking to enjoy ourselves. Those two wins really put a bit of gloss on our season.

"The win out in Paris was even better than the one at home. Stade were competing at the top end of the Top 14 last season and were a very good side".

The inherent warning here is that Wasps have shown in Paris that they are not afraid to travel to hostile environments.

Leinster have not reached that low-point of almost forgetting what European glory feels like as their three European Cups were taken off the shelf at the defunct ERC more recently in 2009, 2011 and 2012.

Memories are still made of those.

Assistant coach Richie Murphy is still there. Forwards coach Leo Cullen was the captain.

Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Mike Ross, Richardt Strauss, Devin Toner and Eoin Reddan are among those still there and fit to play.

But it is a case of taking one step at a time.

The PRO12 rehabilitation, physical and mental, will start in the rugby outpost that is Parma tomorrow.

It is a place where none of the camera lenses will be focussed on what will happen when seventh goes into action against Zebrre's eleventh at Stadio Aprile.

Coach Matt O'Connor would have demanded a positive reaction from the foreign experience of losing at home to Munster last Saturday.

"The guys are pretty clear about putting out a performance that does the shirt proud," he said.

FRUSTRATION

"There was a lot of disappointment in the sheds after the game.

"We need to harbour that frustration and learn those lessons pretty quickly".

The arrival of cavalry troops in the shape of front rowers Martin Moore, Jack McGrath, possibly Richardt Strauss, wing Zane Kirchner and centre Noel Reid increases Leinster's options.

"A couple of blokes coming back to the panel changes the nature of what we can deliver as a group. It is a huge opportunity for those blokes who take the field to put a few of the wrongs right from the weekend".

There will be nothing easily taken away from a Zebre animal in unusually good health at home where Ulster have been fed on and The Ospreys almost taken down too

"They've certainly shown a lot of resolve over the last 18 months and have become incredibly tough to break down and beat over there," said O'Connor.

"We'll have to make sure we're very, very good, if we're going to get the result".

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