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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019

Sting of heaviest European loss lingers for Leinster ahead of Ricoh return

‘It will be in the back of our minds,’ says Garry Ringrose.

IT’S HARD TO believe it is only three Januarys ago that Leo Cullen’s Leinster ended a miserable European campaign with a seven-try defeat to Wasps, but history offers them a cautionary tale heading into this weekend.

The province’s interest in the competition had long since ended when they travelled to the Ricoh Arena in round six of the 2015/16 campaign, but that did little to soften the blow of a 51-10 hammering at the hands of the Premiership side.

Josh Van Der Flier shakes hands with George Smith Leinster suffered their heaviest European defeat on their last visit to Coventry. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Needless to say Leinster have come along way since that day, but the painful memories serve as a warning ahead of their return to the scene of one of their most humbling European results.

While 11 of the matchday squad that day are still at the province, Cullen’s side are an entirely different beast to the one that leaked 36 unanswered second-half points en route to the province’s heaviest ever European loss.

A week previous, Garry Ringrose — still in the academy — starred as a young outfit put Bath to the sword, a win which is referenced as a key moment in Leinster’s development under Cullen and Stuart Lancaster, but even still the centre knows the wounds from Coventry still run deep.  

Cullen — admitting he is ‘nervous’ — is understandably wary.

“There’s the threat they have in their squad, they’re on mixed form, at the moment, it’s fair to say,” the head coach said. “They’d a good win against Northampton last week, you could see by the celebration at the end how much it meant to them, how much they were celebrating little wins in the game, and they’re trying to build that energy.

“You look at that team on paper, they’ve an unbelievable squad of top-end quality, we just need to prepare accordingly.”

The defending European champions have their fate in their own hands heading into this weekend having obliterated Toulouse at the RDS on Saturday, and a fifth victory of the campaign would assure them of top spot in Pool 1 and a place in the quarter-finals. 

They are also in a race to finish as one of the top seeds, so to give themselves home advantage in the last eight and a potential home semi further down the line. 

Saracens and Racing 92 are the big threats in this regard, but Cullen’s side are in a strong position heading into the final round of fixtures, and a bonus-point win would strengthen their case for a top-two finish. 

Wasps, having lost all five of their games this term, are long out of contention in Pool 1 but will have revenge on their minds too after suffering a heavy defeat to Leinster at the RDS on the opening weekend. 

“They play a little bit differently but they have threats right across the team,” Ringrose said of Dai Young’s side.

Adam Byrne scores a try as Garry Ringrose celebrates Ringrose was outstanding on Saturday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It all starts again now and Monday. If we want to win again that will be what we are aiming for. How we start the week determines how we finish it at the weekend.

“The players will be well aware of that and the challenge it is to play over there. I wasn’t playing over there a few years ago but I remember Leinster going to Wasps and it isn’t a nice memory. The guys who came back really didn’t enjoy that at all.

“We’re well aware that if you don’t turn up in the right frame of mind and play well over there that’s what can happen to you. I don’t remember what the exact scoreline was but it was a thumping that Leinster got there. That will be in the backs of our minds as well.”

Of the players involved in 2016, Sean Cronin, Jack McGrath, Rhys Ruddock and Josh van der Flier will be in the frame again this weekend, while Rob Kearney, Johnny Sexton and Devin Toner will hope to shake off their respective injuries in time to feature.

It is a measure of how far Leinster have come in the intervening three years that even without so many expected starters, there was no let-up in performance or intensity against Toulouse on Saturday, as those who deputised slotted in seamlessly. 

Ringrose, man-of-the-match for his outstanding display across all facets, once again showed his leadership qualities in the backline, and in the absence of Sexton, Kearney and Robbie Henshaw was hungry for responsibility from the outset.

“I think we can be really happy with the performance,” the 23-year-old continued.

“I can’t commend the forwards enough for the effort they put in. The guys that then come off the bench and added to it as well. They put in a massive shift to equal what the Toulouse pack were bringing.

“Equally, the challenge was there to try and contain the backs as much as we could. They slipped a couple of tackles and whether an offload had stuck differently, the scoreboard would have looked differently.

“What might have been a consolation try, I mean they were pretty close to doing that at any stage in the game. I think it kinda stuck with the team that you couldn’t afford to switch off, no matter where you were or where the ball was, you had to be switched on and ready because they are so dangerous.”

Garry Ringrose during the press conference Ringrose speaking after Saturday's game. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Ringrose, deflecting all praise away from his own world-class contributions, also commended the squad depth and the competition for places which exist within the dressing room.

“Obviously there would have been a lot of talk about the guys who were missing, the familiar faces you would be used to seeing but there was still a huge amount of competition for places there, especially off the back of a good win against Ulster,” he said.

“Conor O’Brien made his European debut so there still is that competition there driving everyone because ultimately the 23 that go out are lucky and are representing the whole group, so you can’t let anyone else down.

Equally throughout the week, if you are injured or fit or selected or not, you are still contributing. Everyone is in meetings and people speak up if they have to, if they think there is something that will contribute to the group.

“That’s important and I think it showed out there that it is helping us. 

“It’s a 45-50-man effort every week. The competition in training and ultimately in matches is always a burning motivation and something that brings out the best in people.

“Ultimately we’re all aiming for the same thing. The guy who misses out on selection is still hoping that the others do what they can to get the win and that’s something the whole group feels. Everyone is happier when we win.”

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Ryan Bailey

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