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Ruck speed remains Leinster's lifeblood but wastefulness in 22 is an issue

Hooker Sean Cronin details how Matt O’Connor’s side can be more prolific in the ‘red zone’.

Cronin [left] is a key cog in Leinster's attacking plans.
Cronin [left] is a key cog in Leinster's attacking plans.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

FEW THINGS BOTHER professional rugby teams as much as missed opportunities in the opposition 22.

Converting a high percentage of your visits to that zone of the pitch into points on the scoreboard is, naturally, a strong indicator of your likelihood of winning a particular game.

Ulster almost paid the price for their profligacy in the Treviso 22 during the third quarter of Sunday’s Guinness Pro12 encounter at Stadio di Monigo, while Leinster have had intermittent issues in this department during the current campaign.

Last weekend’s four-try win away to the Cardiff Blues saw the province unhappy with their conversion rate on visits to what they term as the ‘red zone’ [other teams refer to this area of the pitch as the 'green zone'].

Looking back on the game, whenever we got into the red zone we coughed up the ball a bit too much,” says hooker Sean Cronin. “That’s an area that we have to try and get right for the coming weeks, two massive European games.”

Indeed, Leinster face into must-win ties against Castres and Wasps in the next fortnight, with the former opposition perhaps providing a strong chance for Matt O’Connor’s men to boost their relatively weak try-scoring record in the Champions Cup.

Getting into the red zone has not been a major problem for Leinster; more pertinent is simply ensuring that they garner points from those occupations.

“I think it’s just down to player focus,” says Cronin when asked what his side must do to be more prolific.

Sean Cronin Cronin has had spells at Munster and Connacht previously. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“The coaches are giving us the blueprint, it’s there for us in the game plan. We just need to focus and get our ball security a bit better, our focus at the ruck. That’s the thing we live off, the speed of the ruck and getting into the game.”

It’s certainly not an easy area of the pitch in which to attack. The closeness of the tryline allows the opposition to fill the front line of their defence – there being less need to drop players deep to cover kicks.

That volume in the front line in turn means the defensive team can generate aggressive line speed and shut down the attacking side. Cronin says Leinster need to adapt to that commonality of rugby more intelligently.

We do work on it in training,” says the Ireland hooker. “I think we need to take a step off the gainline in terms of carrying.

“Just for an example, Cardiff were coming hard off the line, getting in our faces nice and early and putting pressure on at the breakdown, so I think maybe taking a foot off [away from the defence] and using some footwork, some fending, and a bit more targeting of the breakdown, looking to clear bodies.”

Cronin will have a major role to play in whatever attacking progress Leinster do manage, with his ball-carrying having been particularly important in the absence of the likes of Sean O’Brien, Cian Healy and Rhys Ruddock.

Cronin has made 138 running metres in 31 carries over the course of Leinster’s four Champions Cup games this season, as well as manufacturing two clean linebreaks.

Sean Cronin tackled by Aseli Tikoirotuma Cronin hammers a fend in the direction of Harlequins' Aseli Tikoirotuma. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

His best involvements have come in slightly wider channels during the later phases of attacking passages, rather than on short carries around the corner after the initial set-piece.

At times, Cronin has picked running lines any centre would be proud of, and the 28-year-old admits his positioning can help in that regard.

“I think it just depends on the area of the field we’re looking to attack and whether I’m holding width or coming into the middle.

I find that it’s easier to pick lines a bit wider out, and it’s been good for me to get my hands on the ball. It gets you into the game, builds the confidence.”

“It’s always nice to get your hands on the ball. Other lads have really stepped up to the plate there recently: Jack Conan was absolutely superb last weekend and against Ulster. It’s good to be able to share out the workload.”

A collective effort will be required again on Saturday at the RDS, when an out-of-form Castres offer Leinster the ideal opportunity to find their feet in attack.

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Jackson Grubber

As a brief, but related, aside – Paddy Jackson’s clever grubber kick try against Treviso [above] was a lovely moment of clinically converting a visit to the opposition 22 into seven points.

It’s certainly not always the answer, and a hugely difficult skill to carry out, but the 23-year-old spotted the lack of a sweeper in behind Treviso’s front-heavy defensive line on this occasion and exploited the space wonderfully.

It’s worth stressing again how arduous a skill this is, as well as noting that kicking the ball away unsuccessfully in this area of the pitch is likely to cause severe disgruntlement among the coaching staff and possibly teammates.

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Murray Kinsella

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