Tuesday 23 January 2018

Old Blue magic needed if Leinster are to complete mission improbable

Leinster's season could be over in just seven days

Leinster players, from left, Michael Bent, Jimmy Gopperth, Luke Fitzgerald and Gordon D'Arcy following their defeat against Newport last Sunday
Leinster players, from left, Michael Bent, Jimmy Gopperth, Luke Fitzgerald and Gordon D'Arcy following their defeat against Newport last Sunday

Leinster's entire season could lie in tatters by Sunday evening.

The bottom-line acceptability of a PRO12 League semi-final looks to have escaped them due to James Benjamin's sickening late tries at Rodney Parade, coughing up a first-ever double defeat to the poor relations of Welsh rugby.

While coach Matt O'Connor has had one hand held behind his back by numerous injuries, the Six Nations and the Player Welfare Programme, Leinster had nine Ireland internationals, a Springbok in Zane Kirchner and the fast-developing Ben Te'o on duty in Wales.

More than that, they appeared to have taken control of the match by moving 22-8 clear with the wind in their sails and nothing else but the bonus-point on their minds.

It as at this point that they lost their way in the match and back into the play-off spotlight.

The only assumption that can be drawn is that they thought it would be a matter of time before the fourth try would come.

They just didn't make it happen, despite the impact of Six Nations winners Jordi Murphy and Luke Fitzgerald off the bench.

The province must now make the almost unimaginable leap from shelving a loss to the ninth club in the PRO12 to putting the brakes on Toulon's march to a third straight European Cup.

The season will be on the line at Stade Velodrome next Sunday. No doubt about it.

Leinster will have to take in the siege mentality that has been the preserve of the less successful, like Connacht and the Dragons, through the professional era.

They will be rank outsiders to upset a Toulon club that has just moved three points clear of Clermont-Auvergne at the head of the French Top-14.

In many ways, they have travelled back in time to the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-final when they were the under-achievers of Irish rugby, in the shadows of Munster.

Their reaction? They simple decided they had had enough of being second best.

The walls have been closing in on the club since the start of the Six Nations when the collection of eight out of 20 points from four matches put them in a hole.

The Dragons just made that a deeper one.

It all adds to the pressure for Marseille and to the recriminations to follow should it play out the way everyone outside the 'Blue Magic Circle' envisages.

Full-back Rob Kearney spoke last week about how Leinster had "battened down the hatches" in order to get down to the business of winning.

The unconvincing edging of Bath either papered over the cracks or simply reflected the need for time to blend back in for Ireland's frontline internationals.

Even the greatest optimist would struggle to find the positivity from their latest setback.

It was advertised as a 'must win' game and the big sell fell through their hands.

It didn't happen for them last Sunday. They have to make it happen next Sunday.

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