Wow, never did I think Leinster would put on a performance like they did last Sunday against Wasps. I suppose I’m used to that phrase being used in the context of a win.
I’ll admit, I was up at the RDS last Sunday and the atmosphere before the game was strange, my wife even commented on it beforehand, it was a bit flat and not the usual before a game there, particularly for the Champions Cup. We go to Leinster games regularly and this was different, maybe the crowd subconsciously knew what was about to happen.
Taking in to account a decent bit of form in the Guinness PRO 12, Leo Cullen talking about playing the “Leinster way”, Johnny Sexton back in blue, Nacewa back in blue, and the Internationals coming back in to the fold, you’d be forgiven for being optimistic against a side Leinster have put away before, particularly as it was a home game.
However the nightmare began, the game started flat and never picked up after that, we’ve all read the reports and watched the game. To me, Johnny Sexton hasn’t been right mentally since he was out for a long spell in France with concussion. He’s not the same; he looks tired and lacks the old spark he had. There are some brief moments of Johnny magic, where he puts perfectly weighted kicks through to the wingers or runs a decent backline move, but it’s not consistent. Leinster scored some fab tries against Treviso a few weeks ago in the Pro 12, Johnny was the engineer, but we haven’t seen it since. There was one telling incident in the Wasps game where Johnny more or less stood back and avoided a tackle, instead trying to catch the player as he ran past rather than put his head and body in, maybe he’s terrified of getting concussed again, could you blame him?
The sparks in the game came from the guys which I felt were named in the wrong positions, Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden. Both these guys were looking for the ball and gaps to run through, and were fighting. The moment that summed up the game was the awkward bounce from a kick that Dave Kearney tried to catch but couldn’t, only to slip and let Christian Wade pick it up and dot it down for a try. I suppose we would have expected Ian Madigan to start in the centre, Fergus McFadden on the wing and when Nacewa was ruled out, Zane Kirchner at full back. One of the big positives of the game was Gary Ringrose, although he didn’t get long on the pitch, he nearly put some fellas through and made a break himself, it’s worth Leo Cullen starting him in the centre against Bath.
So what now? Leinster travel to Bath needing a win, not only to keep their Champions Cup hopes alive, but also to wake themselves up this season. Leinster has world-class players, a strong coaching team and a legacy to maintain, they need this badly. Despite Leinster possibly going to be missing a few key players, this is a fixture they’re more than capable of winning, but they need belief.
Leinster have won 6 out of their 7 matches against Bath, most recently last season’s Champions Cup Quarter Final which was a narrow 18-15 defeat. Bath have never won a match on home soil against Leinster in Europe, their one win over them was back in the 2005/2006 season on the road. Their record against Irish teams in general is not good, only winning two of their last 13 matches against our sides.
Leinster got stung badly last weekend, now it’s time to cleanse the demons this weekend, if not, the seasons over in Europe. The game is this Saturday at the Recreation Ground with a 3.15pm kick off.
By Stephen Byrne