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Reid working hard to tighten up Leinster's midfield channel after 53 missed tackles

Leinster have enjoyed a perfect start to their European campaign, but defensively they have been exposed by Montpellier and Glasgow.

STATISTICS DON’T OFTEN tell the full story, but in the case of Leinster’s missed tackle count, the numbers provide a fairly accurate reflection of their defensive faults this season.

Noel Reid Reid in action against Glasgow on Saturday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Across the opening six rounds of the Guinness Pro14, only the Cheetahs have missed more tackles and that carried through into the Champions Cup with the eastern province missing a total of 53 tackles against Montpellier [34] and Glasgow [19].

Yet Leinster’s soft centre hasn’t proved as costly as the stats would suggest with Leo Cullen’s side having lost just one game this term — incidentally against the Cheetahs — while also sitting pretty at the top of Pool 3 with back-to-back bonus point victories in Europe.

Furthermore, Leinster have conceded 14 tries in eight games across both competitions which is relative when you consider the amount of times they’ve been cut open because of an individual or systematic error.

More often than not it has been the former, with the midfield channel proving to be a real area of weakness over the last few weeks while they’ve been caught short and exposed on more than one occasion out wide recently.

It’s an area Leinster know they need to tighten up sharpish as there will come a time — perhaps this weekend against Ulster — when they don’t get out of jail because of their dominance at the set-piece or because of their potency in attack.

Saturday’s performance against Glasgow was much improved from the 34 missed tackles against Montpellier, but there were still phases of play when individuals within the system simply failed to carry out their role properly. Robbie Henshaw, for example, was one of Leinster’s best defenders on the opening weekend but then missed five tackles at Scotstoun.

A lot of the problems have stemmed from that defensive combination in midfield being chopped and changed because of injuries, with Henshaw partnered in there by Rory O’Loughlin, Isa Nacewa and then Noel Reid in the last three games.

Reid was guilty of missing a competition-high six tackles during his 42 minutes on the pitch against Montpellier, a defensive performance which drew a lot of criticism amid concerns going forward.

With Nacewa, O’Loughlin and Garry Ringrose all sidelined, Cullen had little option but to stick with Reid on Saturday and he was far more assured at 12, missing just two out of nine tackles. With Johnny Sexton on one side and Henshaw on the other, it’s difficult to do too much wrong.

Noel Reid Reid speaking to the media at UCD yesterday. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“It’s something I have to be good at in the position I’m in, there’s a lot of traffic there so it’s something I definitely work on and am still trying to improve going forward,” he says.

“We just had our review there so there’s definitely a few issues that we can work on. They’re all pretty quick fixes which is a positive. It’s not a system error just a few defensive errors individually and we’ll be working hard to improve that going forward.”

Reid is considered as one of the best distributors in the country and there is no questioning his natural footballing ability, but his tackling has always required work and has perhaps been the reason why he hasn’t properly kicked on.

Something of an injury crisis in the centre has opened a few more doors for him this season and after playing the full 80 minutes on Saturday, he was rewarded with a first European try to seal the bonus point win.

It must have been a particularly sweet moment for a player who, at 27, has spent more time on the sideline than on the pitch in recent seasons and it’s now something he wants to build on.

“I’m just continuing to work hard on my game and just getting a bit of consistency in playing helps,” he continues.

“Playing with Johnny and Robbie and trying to get a bit of a combo going there by training throughout the weeks together. That helps as well so going forward just doing my job for the team and hopefully pop up with the odd try here and there.

“Everyone wants to play, you can do all the training you want really but it’s game minutes is the most important thing and putting yourself in different situations each week and getting used to it and that helps you get better at different aspects of the games.”
On his tackling, Reid added that it’s something he’s continually working on.

“I suppose I’m just working with John [Fogarty] during the week and that’s the main thing and then doing your scout on individual players who have the ability to beat you in a tackle before a match. Just bring that into the game and try and be as successful in the tackle as possible.

Noel Reid celebrates scoring their fourth try of the game with Dan Leavy Reid celebrates his first European try with Dan Leavy. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s just communication, really, and maybe a little bit of individual technique. Missing a one-on-one tackle that you’re in a position to make, maybe it’s keeping your feet moving and stuff like that, sticking to the hits. Some of the tackles, we’re making good contact but we’re slipping off them. That could be one of the issues.”

But is it a confidence thing?

“I suppose so, if you get into the game early with a good tackle it always helps but if you miss one it might actually wake you up a bit more as well. It’s not necessarily a bad thing [to miss one].”

That said, Reid won’t want to miss an early one at Kingspan Stadium this Saturday when he is likely to come up against Stuart McCloskey and Luke Marshall, who have the ability to make it another long afternoon for the former St Michael’s man.

But with another 80 minutes under his belt, the hope is that improvements can be made over the coming days to ensure those statistics don’t come back to hurt Leinster as the weeks progress.

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Ryan Bailey

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