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'The coaches and players have put their heads down, bums up and really worked hard'

Hard work is paying off for Leinster as they head into the final stretch with silverware on their mind.

Leinster face Zebre this weekend.
Leinster face Zebre this weekend.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE LAST TIME Kurt McQuilkin briefed the media with his wise words, there was a dark cloud hanging over Leinster’s UCD base.

The province’s forgettable European campaign had ended with that chastening defeat to Wasps and Leo Cullen was tasked with lifting his charges for the remainder of the campaign.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and Leinster find themselves in a strong position heading down the final stretch of a season which could yet end on a positive note.

Victory in Cardiff last time out lifted Leinster into second in the Pro12 standings and consolidated their place in the play-off berths.

A significant factor in their upturn in fortunes has been the improvement in defence, under the tutelage of McQuilkin, with Cullen’s men conceding just 14 tries in the league this term.

And the Leinster defence coach admits there’s been a change in strategy.

“It has been a good comeback from a defensive point of view,” he said this afternoon.”Having games like Wasps, who gave us a pretty torrid time defensively, were sort of watershed games for us because you can either drop one way or the other and we learnt a lot from those sort of games.

Kurt McQuilkin Leinster defence coach McQuilkin. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“The coaches and the players have put their heads down and bums up and really worked hard since those sort of encounters and they’re doing well at the moment but it can change awful quick too.

“Being with Cheiks [Michael Cheika], you do look back and you do look for comparisons and there are a few coming through and we’re on our way on that path hopefully so I’m really happy with the way the guys have applied themselves.

“We’ve implemented a different system and they’re all buying into it and happy with the progression to date but still a bit of work still to do. “When you’ve got a solid group of players to work with, day in, day out and you can do a lot of remedial work, individual work, it helps a hell of a lot.”

Leinster’s next assignment comes this Sunday with a trip to face Italian side Zebre, who have enjoyed their own revival of late having pushed both Munster and Connacht close in recent games.

McQuilkin closely studied Connacht’s high-scoring win in Italy and he was impressed with what he saw from the hosts and is under no illusions of the task ahead.

“I think we’re going to strike a different animal when they’re at home,” he said of the Italians. “They’re a lot more confident at home and the coach tends to give them a lot more freedom also so their attack will probably be a lot wider and they like  playing at home, they feed of their crowd.

“Defensively their coach lets them shoot out of a defence and make a few reads so if they make a few big hits early on, their tails will go up and it could be a long day at the office so we have to be very careful.

Isa Nacewa scores a try Leinster earned a big win at Cardiff last weekend. Source: Ashley Crowden/INPHO

“They looked dangerous, they scored thirty-odd points so they’re a dangerous side. If we give them a sniff and probably the Connacht boys will admit they gave them a chink of light, they’re certainly well capable of scoring points.

“It’s a reminder to us that we’re not going over on a jolly, she’s going to be a tough old game.”

Leinster will be without 15 players through international duty but McQuilkin issued a clean bit of health following the game in Cardiff with just some minor ‘bumps and bruises’ the only war-scares from an attritional encounter.

Both Dave Kearney and Sean O’Brien, who have been ruled out of the remainder of the Six Nations, have been back at Leinster HQ this week and will continue their recovery under the watchful eye of the province’s medical team.

There is no timeline set for either player to return but McQuilkin revealed it will be known if they will line out again this season sometime next week.

For now, however, the focus is on which players Cullen and the management have at their disposal ahead of a trip to Parma at the weekend.

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Ryan Bailey

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