I think it’s a fairly good time to stop and take a look around at the season so far, we know the form of the players and the club and we have a fairly clear idea of how the league and cup are going (especially the cup). Some players have signed up for more and some have not, some have stepped up and taken the team forward and again… some have not. At times It can be difficult some times to see the wood from the trees with a heavy media presence attempting to cloud judgment, sometimes it helps to take a step to the side take a deep breath and try to remain positive, I guess that’s what this is… right!?
The form of the team has been a huge talking point this season, essentially one would argue that our form in Europe has not been the same as domestic and is quite clearly reflected in our table positions in both competitions. However this year more than ever the gulf in skills (and bank) between the two has never been greater, whether we like it or not we are now second class citizens in a competition we once sat atop of. That aside, it isn’t fair to cast aside the burden of having to commit close to 20 players to the world cup squad – while this is indeed a privilege and a great reflection of the talent filled club, it would be enough to test the depth of any rugby squad(bar one). This I feel is a key factor in the clubs inability to play ball with the big boys this season.
With the 6 nations now approaching fast the squad will once again be stretched, although this is something that happens every year. I have always treated the 6 nations as a kind of ground-hog day for Leinster in the league, come through with results and the weather will stay good, losses however could mean 6 more weeks of winter. That’s my way of saying “if your squad depth can keep you winning through the 6 nations, then you’re in a strong position to win the league”. Many people would have heard me shouting similar tripe all across Dublin over the past few years.
The Wasps game aside, overall the performances this season have been getting better. While it was indeed difficult to see what as we played 3 games in Europe against better opposition. Hard to take it when you play well but are beaten by a better team. 7 wins on the trot in the league now including victories over all of the other provinces is not a bad run. It has left us in a lovely position on the league table too which is always nice. It seems to me that Leo Cullen is now putting his mark on the squad. We are starting to see aspects of play that have been missing, presumed dead, since Joe up’d sticks. A strand scrum, backs taking ball at pace and something called “Defensive co-ordination” have all turned up and frankly I’m happy. Given the progress I feel it’s only fair that Leo would be allowed to continue into next season and get a run at it with a full squad for more of the year.
Ian Madigan is catching the boat along with Ben T’eo, a very sad thing to have to say. I wouldn’t begrudge anybody a career and wish them the best in the future. Personally I do hope that Ian comes back to us Ala Johnny but only time will tell. The feelings I hold on the matter of not being able to keep him are best contained in a slightly less positive article. Sean O’Brien has signed a new deal and is showing some great form. Hopefully he can keep it up into the late stages of the league and no injuries come his way. The one player who seemed most affected by the world cup hangover has been Johnny Sexton, although in the past couple of games things seem to be improving. It would be nice if that were to continue. A huge impact has been made by Gary Ringrose and Josh Van der Flier, who are the form players of the season in my opinion. I do not share that opinion alone however given their inclusion in the Ireland squad.
At this point a top 4 finish and maybe even a sniff at a challenge cup would be a very successful year for the club. We had spoken about it in previous write ups but re- aligning fans expectations was something that was necessary this season. This hasn’t happened and the media continue to report on Leinster as though it is still 2011/2012 which simply compounds the matter. I think all true supporters know this and are looking at building for next season. See you all on Saturday afternoon for the Bath game. COYBIB!!