Opposition View: Leinster

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The opposition view is back this week after an Italian hiatus and this week I ask Leinster fan Colm O’Donoghue (@ColmODonoghue), who also helps run the Rugby Leinster page (@RugbyLeinster_), the questions ahead of our sides meeting on Saturday night…

How would you sum up your 2015/16 season overall?

W 16  L 6  PF 458  PA 290  TF 51  TA 27  TBP 6  LBP 3  Pts 73

Leinster finished 1st in the regular season, losing to Connacht in the Pro12 Final

Weird. It was a year with a lot of positives, the rise of Josh van der Flier, James Tracey and Ross Molony was great to see. How we performed without our internationals was by and large quite good. However, the integration of those guys back into the team was not good. Wasps in the RDS was a dark day for us, as was Wasps away. We were unfortunate against Bath in The Rec and really put it up to Toulon home and away. Our league form was generally quite good although it was disappointing to be blown away by a great Connacht team in the final. I’m hoping we can go one better this year.

leinster-pro12-final
Leinster look on after losing last season’s Pro12 Final

 

Are you pleased with your new signings?

Leinster have signed Jamison Gibson-Park (Hurricanes), Ian Nagle (London Irish), Robbie Henshaw (Ulster)

We had a host of players leave at the end of last season like Madigan, Te’o, Reddan, Boss and particularly sadly Luke Fitzgerald. This left us with weak enough stock of backs.

We signed three, Henshaw who’s been injured, Niall Morris who’s unfortunately been forced to retire and Jamison Gibson Park who I’ve been very impressed with so far. I’m a tad worried that he’s coming straight from being involved right to the end of the Super Rugby season so he’s going to be playing rugby virtually non stop for 18 months. I’m hoping the competition between he and Luke McGrath will bring out the best in both of them.

On the forward side we’ve brought Ian Nagle back from England and this is the signing I’m least impressed by given our depth (for once) in the second row and the exciting talent like Ross Molony and James Ryan coming through. I’m excited to see how well Henshaw can slot into the back line because he is a real elite talent in my opinion.

jamison-gibson-park-hurricanes
Jamison Gibson-Park was a teammate of Willis Halaholo’s at the Canes

 

Where would you say your team’s strengths and weaknesses lie?

Undoubtedly the strength is in the pack which is dripping with top players. The set piece, particularly the line out, has been an issue for a couple of seasons so hopefully that can be sorted. Our weakness has been our tendency to underperform in the second half of games. A 10 minute spell in Glasgow cost us 14 points and lost us the game. The Ospreys and Edinburgh both nearly returned from the dead so it would be good to see us play for 80 minutes this week.

How do you rate your coach?

Leo Cullen is into his second season as head coach, after 16 playing years at Leinster and 220 appearances. He also won 32 Ireland caps.

I don’t think there’s any question that Leo got the job before he expected to, and so far it’s been quite hit and miss. He’s shown a willingness to try and play a more attractive style of rugby than we were playing during the Matt O’Conor era, and has been better at bringing through young talent like Garry Ringrose, James Tracey and Ross Molony. The fact that the line out, a facet of the game that he excelled in as a player, is part of our struggle is a tad worrying. I think the presence of Stuart Lancaster is a positive one and I’m hoping that we show up better in the tough European and top end Pro12 games than we did last season. It’s very much a prove it year for him and I am really hoping he does prove it. 
leo-cullen-leinster
Leo Cullen is the current Leinster coach, seen here with his trusty assistants

Who do you see as your star player?

It’s hard to pick just one star player in a team loaded with international class but if I had to pick one that makes the difference between us being a good team and one that could challenge for European silverware it would be Jonny Sexton. On form I think he’s up there with Dan Biggar, Beauden Barrett and Nico Sanchez (and Gareth Anscombe of course, Ed). He had a couple of poor games at the start of last season but was in sensational form on Friday night by all accounts. If he is on the top of his game I think we have a team capable of doing damage on all fronts.

johnny-sexton-leinster
Johnny Sexton is back to fire Leinster to success

 

How has your season gone so far?

It’s been a nice progression thus far. We sputtered and felt like we missed out on a bonus point against Treviso at home, before unfortunately collapsing and undeservedly losing out on any match points in Glasgow.

I’ve unfortunately not been able to see the last two games, but to get 10 points in Edinburgh and at home against our old rivals the Ospreys is very pleasing. One thing we’ve shown a tendency to do is tear out of the blocks in the first half and then end up clinging on for dear life in the second which is something I’d like to see sorted.

Guys like Joey Carberry have stepped up and done well, Dan Leavy has finally started to look like living up to some of his potential. Most excitingly is that guys like Rob Kearney and especially Cian Healy have looked like returning to some form which has eluded them for the last number of seasons for a variety of reasons. Overall you’d have to be positive about the year so far.

leinster-v-glasgow
Leinster couldn’t stop Glasgow at Scotstoun

 

What is the aim for this season?

I want to win the Pro12 and get out of the group in Europe. Leinster for years lived in Munster’s shadow for winning trophies before going on an incredible run between 2008 and 2014. As a team we’ve gotten used to being on the podium at the end of the year so it would be good to get back there after not winning anything for the last two years.

That said, Glasgow, Ospreys, Ulster and you guys in Cardiff are all looking very good and it will be a very competitive league. Our group in Europe looks infinitely more manageable than last year, though at the same time it’s no cake walk. I would hope to be able to get out of the group and see how far we can go.

What is your prediction for our game?

I’ve only seen the Blues once this year, in Thomond Park, and they were good. It’s definitely good to see Cardiff doing well and it’s hard not to be impressed by their start, particularly beating Glasgow in the Arms Park. I’m a big fan of the back row, Navidi, Warburton and Ellis Jenkins mean that holding onto your own ball is so hard. There’s plenty of tries in your wingers too.
I think Sexton and McGrath will kick at Tom James and Cuthbert a lot and hopefully Isa, Kearney and Kirchner can get some change out of the aerial battle. It will be a big game for our back row and I really look forward to that battle. If we can get the upper hand in the scrum and in the air and manage to play for more than 45 minutes I think we should be able to hand you guys your first loss of the season but I think it will be very tight.
I’ll say Leinster by 3. (Another opposition view fan predicting a Cardiff loss! Ed)
Thanks again to Colm for answering the questions, a big game on Saturday indeed. Come on Cardiff!!

 

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