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Leinster keep finding motivating factors as they mount mighty winning run

The eastern province turn their attentions to Ulster after sealing an early qualification for the Champions Cup quarters.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

THERE ARE FEW things to rival a defeat when you need something to inspire a win.

Leinster are certainly not above that old chestnut, but the team who bottled their 2017 semi-final losses to Clermont and Scarlets and used them as fuel for a glorious 2018 campaign continually show an ability to stretch a massive amount of mileage out of any given loss.

And now, as they take their 11-game 100% winning record into a triple threat of winter-pros, focus must zoom in a little tighter each week to find areas for improvement and contrive a few doubts around the camp to ensure complacency is continually warded far from their door.

“That is the beauty of rugby,” says senior coach Stuart Lancaster, “there are so many ways to win the game that you can always learn.”

Primarily, it seems that Leinster use their defence as a stick they can always turn back to beat themselves with. Scoring 93 points over two games against the Premiership leaders is fine, sure, so instead they focus on the four tries conceded.

It’s arguably a more achievable goal for younger, less-heralded prospects to aim for too. Such targets served them well in Glasgow when they denied last year’s Pro14 runners-up a losing bonus on their own patch, it served them well at the low-point of this season’s winning streak – a 3-0 win over Zebre – and it makes any given Leinster XV a serious threat to their inter-pro rivals over in the coming weeks.

“We reviewed the game this morning and one of the things that was actually really good about playing a team like Northampton is that Chris Boyd has such an attack-minded focus,” said Lancaster.

“The big challenge for us was to step up defensively. You look at some of the tries we scored at the weekend – take James Lowe’s where Ross Byrne put the grubber through – that started on a period of defence. The Dave Kearney try in the first half… that was after a sustained period of defence and we turned the ball over.

“I think the big thing for us is to keep improving on both sides of the ball. We were asked to step up in defence because of the quality of the attacking team. I think we did that, even though we conceded three tries which is very frustrating.

“The challenges Northampton gave us will stand to us in the future.”

Saturday’s bonus point-win means they can begin planning the medium term with a little more clarity. They know for sure they will be in the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals and another win ought to secure a home berth on the first weekend in April.

It will take a few more Champions Cup fixtures in other pools to predict with any confidence who their opposition will be. But there is a possibility that the last team to beat them – 13 games ago – would be sent to the Aviva Stadium for a last-eight tie. The Champions Cup final though, is not the motivating factor spurring Leinster on this remarkable run of form.

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“People’s memory of the final gets narrowed down to the final 20 minutes,” says Lancaster.

“For the first 60 minutes we were ahead and it was only when they got ahead that we had to start chasing the game. It wasn’t like the final was one-way traffic, they got the edge on the day.

“There were definitely lessons we can learn from that, but you can’t spend all of the next season planning to play Saracens again when you don’t know how it is going to play out.”

It’s just that no other side has given them a serious challenge since. Not that there haven’t been moments when Leinster have been tested, just no hurdle yet has been too high for them leap over.

“It’d be wrong for us to say we haven’t been tested by the teams we’ve played against. We have, but we’ve played better than them and ultimately come out on top.”

About the author:

Sean Farrell

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