Friday 15 December 2017

Brent Pope: Leinster have to keep the pressure on leaders

Ian Madigan
Ian Madigan

Now that we have had a chance to catch our breath after last Saturdays epic Six Nations finale, its back to domestic duty for many of Irelands Championsh ip winning players.

And while the Irish team has been basking in success over the weekend, for many of the fringe players it was back to Leinster training Tuesday morning to concentrate on a massive fortnight for their province.

In other years, returning back to the provinces had been almost been seamless in its transition, such was the way that the Leinster had been progressing in the absence of its star players. In some years the returning Irish stars actually struggled to be automatic choices on the Leinster team, such were the performances while they were on international duty.

It was always part of Leinster's success, a responsibility on the part of the incumbent players not just to be warming the jerseys but to make it as hard as possible for the big name players to make it back onto the starting side. Iit was a huge part of Leinster's winning culture - no one player was bigger than the team.

This year, Leinster has been struggling for consistency over the last couple of months, culminating in their uncustomary position outside the top 4 in the Pro 12 ahead of tonight's game against leaders Glasgow and then next week's European Champions Cup clash against Bath.

Lenster coach Matt O Connor has not had it easy this season. A succession of injuries early in the season left his cupboard fairly bare on occasions but with some of the big guns back just prior to Christmas, Leinster again proved they are still a major force in Europe.

Given that the Irish players will be full of confidence and winning momentum from the Six Nations, you still fancy Leinster to do something special this season.


With players like Cian Healy, Luke Fitzgerald, Sean O'Brien and to a lesser extent Jamie Heaslip all raring to go after protracted periods out of the game through injury, and other fringe Irish players such as Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan, Sean Cronin, Jordi Murphy and Marty Moore chomping at the bit to show what they can do, Lerinster will still pack a pretty powerful punch.

They will need to do so - they cannot afford to drift out of touch tonight.

The fringe players that did not have that much game time in the Six Nations are included, either in the starting line-up or on the bench, tonight.

The problem will be what happened against Zebre earlier this year. It takes more than one week's practice for players to get back into the provincial systems of playing.

Remember, most of the Leinster team will have been using different calls, defence systems and plays with Ireland. O'Connor will just hope that his players can produce some individual brilliance this week against a Glasgow team that is so often better than its individual parts.

Despite Scotland's capiliaution to Ireland at the weekend earning them another wooden spoon, Glasgow are still performing well, they play a fantastic brand of open rugby, have some excellent oversees signings and an excellent coach in Gregor Townsend. Their strength is in their team spirit and an open style of play.

very best

Last weekend, for a number of reasons, we watched rugby at its very best. The overly cautious, kick-first, territory and defence-based game we have endured for the last few years was thrown out the window, as teams finally expressed themselves.

The game was the winner, and while Super 15 rugby has its critics, it is at least a hybrid type of game where attack is more important than defence.

I am not suggesting for a minute that teams adopt a Super Rugby approach at all times in a match, but certain features of that type of free-flowing game would fit nicely into the Pro12 game over here.

In a sport where parents are clearly worried about their children playing a game where it is all about brawn, last weekend we saw how the other skills are equally, if not more, important.

And to be fair to Glasgow, that is the way they like to play and it is serving them well all season.

In recent weeks, losses to the Newport Gwent Dragons and then the Scarlets has left this Leinster side in a precarious position, on the same number of wins as rivals Connaught and just a few bonus points ahead of the Galway-based side.

Leinster have a proud record in this competition, and it has been important to them in the past. Leinster need a win, another home loss would damage their fortress reputation in the RDS and would start to put them in danger of drifting out of touch.

Glasgow are a win ahead at the top of the competition and they could even afford a slip-up here tonight and still be well placed, especially with a 17 -game unbeaten record at home.

Although the scalp of Leinster is always treasured, and Glasgow have always performed in the RDS where the width and hard ground suits their wide, off-loading game, I take Leinster to win, simply because they need it more in the lead-up to Europe.

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