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Saturday 18 August 2018

Space still the final frontier for Blues

There was much to admire and much to ponder after Leinster's performance at the weekend. Their application and appetite for the job was unquestioned, the passion and hunger was there for the fight.

However, the manner in which they went about trying to win the game was puzzling. While it was a marked step up from the game in Glasgow, much of their game remains very one-dimensional, although their scrum was a big plus on the night.

There are several plausible explanations for this route one approach. One is that they are deliberately holding back on giving too much away for the bigger games that await in the not-too-distant future.

Maybe the game plan had to be simplified after the late withdrawal of Jonny Sexton. Ian Madigan did acquit himself well in trying circumstances and the run out would have done him the world of good.

His performance deserved a try and he duly delivered to put some daylight between the sides at the end.

Fight

Considering the possession Leinster enjoyed, the result was probably a fair scoreline, but they had to fight all the way and in the end got the bonus point in a game that generally lacked creativity.

The reasons already outlined and the fact that it is a new set-up are all valid excuses as to why Leinster's game has lacked overall fluidity.

To be fair to Cardiff, the best try of the day was created from the inside pass off Xavier Rush, and was much akin to the tries we are seeing regularly in the southern hemisphere.

It seems that players and referees alike have bought wholeheartedly into the new laws, especially at the breakdown. The result has been a positive one as the standard of the rugby, especially in the Tri Nations, is now on another level.

Although we are talking about some of the best players in the world, the key point is the manner in which many of the players are going about trying to play the game. When the All Blacks played South Africa in one of those recent epic fixtures in Johannesburg, where the Blacks snatched it at the death, you could not have witnessed two more contrasting styles of play.

South Africa, with so many great athletes in their team, still try to bully teams into submission by running straight into the first opposition shirt they see.

If the Boks played with the same width and spacial awareness as the All Blacks, we would have the potential for a spectacular World Cup next year.

Australia also try to play what they see in front of them, but they still overuse the isolated runner from the ruck situation, which ultimately slows down possession.

The big question is why we are so slow to adapt on this side of the world. It seems that some professional sides and club sides alike are happy to accept that we are just not good enough to play that sort of game on this side of the equator.

Challenge

Not many coaches, it seems, can visualise their loosehead prop scoring a walk-in try in the corner, like Tony Woodcock.

However, if you challenge players enough and continually practise the skills required to play a game that involves greater awareness of space and better repositioning off the ball -- a game, incidentally, that has now been helped with these new laws -- I tell you it can be done.

Both Ireland and Leinster do not have the power to overcome sides by playing in a way that relies on generating so much go forward ball around the fringes of rucks.

First and foremost, with that approach it is guaranteed that there will be more rucks, due to the amount of traffic around the fringe of defences. With those extra numbers it would greatly reduce the chance of consistent fast ball.

Leinster were quoted as not being happy with their breakdown work in the game last week, but rather than just working harder at getting more bodies off the ball, one hopes their training involves minimising rucks in the first instance by continually attacking the channel with the least amount of resistance.

This approach to their attack will aid their defensive system also, as players away from the ruck continually fill the field by keeping their heads up and marking defenders accordingly. The same principle applies to defence and attack.

Leinster make the trip to Treviso this weekend, which has always been a tough place to travel. The Italians will relish the physical contest and Leinster will need to duck and weave more smartly if they are to avoid the forward battle that the Azzurri would only love to be a part of.

It will be a test to see if they can adapt their game and create more opportunities under more pressure away from home. Treviso have been known to knock big sides off their perch at home but Leinster should be too much of a proposition after the boost of last weekend.

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