Leinster got the wake-up call they needed ahead of another tough trip to Wales


Head coach Leo Cullen has had to shuffle his team at the start of the season. Photo: Sportsfile
Head coach Leo Cullen has had to shuffle his team at the start of the season. Photo: Sportsfile

There was a time many seasons ago when Leinster used to take Welsh teams for granted.

When the Scarlets moved from Stradey Park to Parc y Scarlets, it took a while for the Llanelli faithful to travel up the road, and therefore there was no tradition or atmosphere.

The same goes for the Dragons and Rodney Parade, and less so for the Ospreys and the Cardiff Blues.

Leinster won the endurance battle last weekend, but not the physical one, and tomorrow’s challenge will be the opposite.

Last weekend Leinster had to reshuffle their selection due to injuries in crucial areas.

This is not something you would expect for this time of year, but something they have become familiar with and able to cope with due to the large pool of talent they can draw from.

With all of Leinster’s success over the last while, a day out in the RDS would have been an ideal reminder of some comfortable glory days of last season, and an ideal way to start the season by kicking off where you left off.

Plenty

Cardiff away was never going to fit the bill and like all teams this season, the Welsh side were finding plenty of dressing-room reasons to have a good cut off what was in their mind an arrogant and disrespectful Leinster selection.

As games go, this one was tough to watch. Tries in quick succession for the home side made it look like Leinster were basking in the recent glory all summer, which is unlikely, because the personnel changes led to a defensive structure failure throughout the game.

While this is a worry, particularly travelling to Wales again, Leinster have time to sort it before the season gets going in earnest.

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Defence is primarily a mental attitude that does not take a lot of pitch or drill time but it is clear that the players did not have their heads in the right place for most of the game.

With the mental resilience required to win two championships and then an Irish tour, it would be hard to switch back into such minute detail, but Cardiff pushing Leinster so close is the best thing that can happen to them at this time of the season.

Great teams win games they should have lost. In nine months’ time, come the play-offs, nobody will care about the manner of this victory – all that will matter are the points gained.

Leinster will know that they got out of jail. They will also know that the Scarlets will be waiting for them tomorrow evening.

Scarlets, after many defeats last season and the season before, will enjoy the test against Leinster.

For their own sake they will need to assess where they have improved since their last loss to Leinster and a win for Leo Cullen’s men against their rivals would be a big statement early in the season.

The lack of international availability would be an easy excuse for Leinster to fall back on. But what has made this team a success has been the constant infusion of inexperienced players blended with experience throughout the PRO14.

This has worked well throughout the campaign and also through the player drain during international season.

Where this model struggles is at the play-off time of the season. Players who consistently perform in the day-to-day business will want recognition in the higher-profile games.

However, as the team can survive a low-calibre performance, some of the individuals cannot afford to let their standards drop as it gives the management reasons to pick other players.

With all of this player management in process the great thing is that Leinster still have five points in the bag.

Some notable performances and some less so will always be the outcome from a result like this. Rhys Ruddock, Rory O’Loughlin and Ross Byrne have started well, with some added rejuvenation from Bryan Byrne.

Disappointingly, Leinster’s new recruit Joe Tomane did not live up to expectations.

Recruitment

The province’s recruitment over the past decade has been extremely vigilant and successful, but this can go two ways.

Rugby is a contact sport and foreign players need to believe in the club and its future for it to survive and prosper. If this is lacking it becomes very obvious very fast.

Tomane will be needed in the repetitive nature of the PRO14 but to date, he is by no means a permanent fixture on the team sheet.

With the good news about the return of Josh van der Flier, Leinster can activate a pure openside flanker, free-flowing game-plan.

Scarlets are always difficult to play against and Leinster will not want to concede what has been a monthly ritual over the last 12 months.

Last week’s wake-up call should alert Leinster to the belief that the new season wipes the slate clean and that momentum and consistency are the foundation for success.

Training this week would have had a more serious tone than the week before in Leinster HQ. Changes in selection and mindset will be required for Parc y Scarlets tomorrow.

Irish Independent

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