Ryan Byrne/INPHO Lancaster in Donnybrook for training yesterday.
# well gelled
Lancaster's constant search for cohesion underlining Leinster streak
Leinster’s senior coach outlines some of the ways he puts a large squad on the same page.

WHATEVER VALUE YOU might place on Leinster’s unbeaten run, and all in blue seem to agree that it counts for nothing if it doesn’t lead to silverware, for senior coach Stuart Lancaster the secret to sustaining it orbits around two Cs.

Cohesion and competition.

The latter C is clear enough, 44 players were used by Lancaster and Leo Cullen in the Christmas inter-pro window alone. And while the front-liners were in Japan with Ireland, the performances of those left behind created a scenario whereby the veterans had to up their game just to slot back into a provincial rhythm.

The former C, cohesion, is also built on the training ground t0 produce on-field results. Leinster’s remarkable winning run currently stands at 16 games, a streak that has rattled along despite a constantly-rotating squad with players filtering in and out week on week.

“The trick is, I think, developing cohesion. Cohesion is the most important thing that I search for in playing performances,” said Lancaster at Leinster’s UCD base yesterday.

“When you constantly change the team you’re constantly asking new combinations to play together.”

While Lancaster pushes for continuity in the team’s make-up, he credits head coach Leo Cullen with providing resistance to unchanged teams and combinations by bubbling names up from the depth chart to earn their shot in the matchday squad.

harry-byrne Ryan Byrne / INPHO Out-half Harry Byrne training yesterday. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Leo does a brilliant job of giving other players opportunities. So we keep a freshness in the squad, keep a hunger in the squad… I can’t think of many occasions in my time here that we’ve put out the same team two or three weeks on the bounce. It rarely happens.

“So the challenge then is: how do you get cohesion? When you’ve got (against Connacht) Ciaran Frawley playing with Joe Tomane and Garry Ringrose – which has probably never happened in a game – that will be different to this week’s combination and different to the week before.

“So the way we train becomes really important. If you constantly give all your attention to the starting XV at the expense of the 25-30 other players who are on the training field then you won’t get the cohesion.

“Because we constantly integrate players in every team in every training session, I think that’s the way we overcome it.”

The former England head coach adds somewhat wryly that this level of cohesion and integration ‘doesn’t happen by accident’. It comes from work done both in the building and on the training ground, attention paid the way of fringe players, developing talent and marquee men in equal measure.

“Let’s say today’s training session: there’s 34 training today – there’s a few rested from the weekend – when we get through various other parts of training, I’ll pick two teams and I’ll constantly change selection within that.

It doesn’t mean it’s the team more likely to face Lyon will do all the work and these guys are just holding bags. Entirely the opposite. Often we have training sessions where there are three teams of 10 or three teams of 14, so we’re constantly rotating.

“Everyone is involved in every training session and  everyone is coached at every training session and everyone is in every review and learning at the same rate. And that then mitigates against that lack of cohesion that comes with constantly changing.”

The dual benefit of the drive for fluid-feeling gameplay then creates an environment where players are content to keep working their way up the rungs and so, even with interest from other provinces and clubs, less inclined to up sticks in search of a guaranteed starting role.

“It’s in our interest to keep all the best young talent because you want to grow Leinster  into a world class team for the next 10 years,” says Lancaster.

leo-cullen Ryan Byrne / INPHO Leo Cullen with Jamison Gibson-Park. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“(When) young talent has left a club during my time in England (it has been) when they haven’t been given an opportunity and I think we always try and give them an opportunity.

“B: they are not involved in the training sessions… they don’t get proper development. They are very much seen as second fiddle or holding bags. They don’t get asked their opinion. They  are not valued at meetings.

That doesn’t happen here. I think a young player – take a Tommy O’Brien or Ryan Baird or Harry Byrne – these lads who are beginning to step on the scene now they are involved in every meeting for the past two-and-a-half years really.

“I did a review this morning at 9 o’clock with the team. There must have been 40 players in the meeting (and) all the academy staff.

“But there were some lads couldn’t make it, and they were all young lads who haven’t played for Leinster yet.

“I had a second meeting with them to go through all what we did even though they hadn’t played for the first team yet. So that’s how you make young players feel welcome.”

And, in Leinster, they have been repaying the coaches’ efforts in spades.

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