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Friday 24 January 2020

Hogan tackles issues

Leinster's first-up hits have to improve in Aviva

Leinster contact skills coach Hugh Hogan during training at Energia Park
Leinster contact skills coach Hugh Hogan during training at Energia Park

In August of 2018, Hugh Hogan was added to the Leinster roster as the contact coach.

Obviously, the appointment came about as a need that had to be met, the former Trinity College and St Mary's College back row forward specialising in tackle technique, among other intricacies of the game.

This is becoming an even more valuable tool to call on as Leinster continue the battle against physically bigger forces, like Benetton, Lyon and Northampton Saints, that tend to roam the European circuit.

Coaches are pessimists at heart because they have to be.

They never tire of looking for an edge wherever they can get it.

For all of the razzle and the dazzle of Leinster's seven-try expose of Northampton Saints, the holes in their game cannot be overlooked.

That would have been central to the Monday morning review, pointing out where improvements are not only possible, but necessary.

Even in a near-flawless performance in attack, there are plenty of 'work-ons' for this week.

Leinster's defence took a bend-without-break attitude after Saints' Ahsee Tuala's seventh minute try last Saturday.

However, the ESPN statistical review shows how they missed 29 tackles for an 84% completion rate when 90% has been offered as the acceptable target.

In fact, there were just three starters who did not suffer such a blemish on their performance, Devin Toner, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris.

Man of the Match van der Flier totalled 17 without a miss compared to 13 by Doris and Toner, the lock making up for lost time at the World Cup by taking it out on anyone who came hurtling down his channel.

All of the backs missed at least one target with scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and right-wing David Kearney the least culpable.

In fact, centres Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose and left-wing James Lowe were beaten three times; Jonathan Sexton and Jordan Larmour twice.

Replacement fly-half Ross Byrne stood in the line of fire to come up short three times from ten attempts in a busy 35-minute period when Sexton was forced off with that medial ligament injury.

What Northampton will lean into from the first-leg in Franklin's Gardens is that there is joy to be found in or around those ten, twelve and thirteen channels.

What they will plan for the second-leg is that when they get in behind the first line of defence, they must turn those gashes into something more clinical.

For example, Ringrose was brushed off by full-back Tuala and got back to his feet to be bounced back by Teimana Harrison for two of his three misses in the lead up to Tuala's try in the left corner.

The Ireland centre is never one to shy away from the hard truth and is known to be harder on himself than any coach could be.

You would have to think Hogan is working overtime on tackle technique in the earlier part of this week, hammering home the importance of the tackle entry and the dangers in making contact on the ball-carrier's terms.

Northampton will be committed to stopping the dam that is their defence from bursting for the Blues to flow through.

Leinster have to be able to send the Saints marching back to where they come from.

That is why the second instalment at the Aviva may not turn out to be the expected high-scoring shoot-out between two attack-minded teams.

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