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O'Brien brought into Leinster camp as they ramped up to take on Europe again

Hot favourites for the opener and the tournament, Leinster don’t just switch on for Europe by accident.

WITH THE FAVOURITES’ tag firmly attached to Leinster before a ball has been kicked in the Heineken Champions Cup, they can quietly be pretty content to get an opening opponent like Benetton today (kick-off 15.15, BT Sport).

Sure, the bookmakers and card-carrying supporters expect another emphatic win against an industrious Italian outfit who have never escaped the pool stage or beaten an Irish team in this competition. But within the ranks, there is no need to go too far back in the results history to find an L to stir up a motivating factor.

sean-obrien Sean O'Brien was part of a strong Leinster back row when Benetton won at the RDS last year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Anything less than a win at home leaves a sting for Leinster. And Treviso have left the RDS with a win and a draw on their last two visits.

It’s not solely a matter of selection, the heavy mitigation for those two results is competition. The sights and sounds of a Heineken Champions Cup will help ensure there is no repeat at the RDS this afternoon.

However, the switch doesn’t just flick automatically. There is always effort put in to tweak, modify and tune the mindset to the necessary frequency. This week, that work took the form of Sean O’Brien. The now-former Leinster flanker was invited back to his old stomping ground to speak about what the harp-emblazoned blue jersey meant to him, just to make doubly sure his young successors don’t take possession for granted.

“It set the tone for the week,” said Johnny Sexton of the Tuesday meeting, “I don’t think you need it necessarily because when you walk in the door on the Monday morning of a European week it is different. Everyone is excited and there is a different feel around the place.

sean-obrien-celebrates-with-teammates-after-winning-the-guinness-pro14-final O'Brien lifts the Pro14 title after Leinster's win in Glasgow. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“It was like that on Monday, but the meeting on Tuesday was brilliant.”

The captain added: “There is a lot of experience in the team, but there is a lot of young guys and we need to focus on ourselves and the performance. We don’t have time in a week like this to get around those young lads. And just for them to realise what it is like to play for Leinster in Europe and what it means to the guys that play with us.

“So getting those big days out and what it means to your family and all those close to you, they will never forget as well.

So it is just important that the young guys realise that and I think they know it as well anyway, they are born and bred in Leinster and they know what’s expected.”

The expectations are particularly lofty in Europe. That crest reinforces the premium value Leinster place on the Champions Cup. The fourth star it was added with great relish in 2018 and Sexton is already casting an eye sideways at Toulouse, whose win last night shows they also have an excellent opportunity to be the first side to win a fifth Heineken Cup next May.

It has always been the goal of the club to be the best in Europe. And if we can get that fifth star it will put us up there because no one else will have done it.

“You’ll see, Toulouse will be talking of the same thing. But it is motivation, we speak about it a little bit, obviously we don’t speak about it all the time. We spoke about last year, we got so close so that will be big motivation this year to try and go where no team has gone before.”

Almost as if to signal the final klaxon on lamentations for Ireland’s inability to break new ground in the World Cup, an incessant alarm bleep graced the midway point of Sexton’s post-captain’s run media duty yesterday.

Having been hampered with thumb and groin injuries en route to Japan, the out-half is bursting to get back on the field without the feeling of being constrained by a knock.

jonathan-sexton Sexton is back as Leinster captain. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“When you dislocate your thumb playing touch rugby, there’s not much you can do about that and then when a maul collapses on you – I don’t know what I was doing in a maul – in Portugal. (So) I ended up hurting my groin and then off the back of that groin, it was niggly at different times as you saw during the World Cup.”

Those with niggles and setbacks have been left sidelined by Cullen today. Tadhg Furlong is managing a back issue, Robbie Henshaw’s pre-Connacht illness left him shy of the peak of his powers in the week’s early training sessions.

Sexton is joined by Jordan Larmour and Garry Ringrose in a back-line that is primed to break through a stubborn Benetton side. That is, after a James Ryan and Josh van der Flier-bolstered pack have broken them down.

The totemic figure in among them was unfortunately forced to move on from the World Cup over two months ago.

“He took the disappointment pretty hard, as you would,” Sexton says of Devin Toner.

a-view-of-training Leinster players during yesterday's session at the RDS. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Look, there are lots of different reasons why he didn’t get picked. It is up to him to go into it, I am not going to go into that. But he is a guy that is well-liked in Ireland and Leinster and he is a guy who has performed at the top level for a long time. He is so calm when it comes to the set-piece when I am dealing with him in terms of lineout calling.

“He is brilliant to deal with – no matter what time of the game he will make good calls. It is good to get back with him. It was a big disappointment in his career but I am sure he will bounce back.”

A big man nursing a point to prove. Sounds like a handy weapon to have in the arsenal of a team pushing towards the pinnacle again. 

Leinster

15. Jordan Larmour
14. Dave Kearney
13. Garry Ringrose
12. Joe Tomane
11. James Lowe
10. Jonathan Sexton (Capt)
9. Luke McGrath

1. Cian Healy
2. Ronan Kelleher
3. Andrew Porter
4. Devin Toner
5. James Ryan
6. Rhys Ruddock
7. Josh van der Flier
8. Caelan Doris

Replacements

16. James Tracy
17. Peter Dooley
18. Michael Bent
19. Scott Fardy
20. Max Deegan
21. Jamison Gibson-Park
22. Ross Byrne
23. Rory O’Loughlin

Benetton Rugby 

15 Jayden Hayward
14 Angelo Esposito
13 Ignacio Brex
12 Alberto Sgarbi (C)
11 Luca Sperandio
10 Ian Keatley
9 Dewaldt Duvenage

1 Nicola Quaglio
2 Hame Faiva
3 Marco Riccioni
4 Irné Herbst
5 Dean Budd
6 Giovanni Pettinelli
7 Abraham Steyn
8 Nasi Manu

Replacements

16 Engjel Makelara
17 Federico Zani
18 Tiziano Pasquali
19 Marco Fuser
20 Marco Lazzaroni
21 Toa Halafihi
22 Tito Tebaldi
23 Tommaso Allan

Murray Kinsella and Bernard Jackman join Gavan Casey in studio to assess the four provinces and their chances heading into the 2019/20 Champions Cup campaign.


 

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Sean Farrell

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