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'I'm as excited as I have been over the five years at Leinster'

Stuart Lancaster knows his team needs to be better at beating ‘power-based teams’.

Stuart Lancaster has been with Leinster since 2016.
Stuart Lancaster has been with Leinster since 2016.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

IT WOULD BE no great shock if Leinster march through the opening block of the URC season unbeaten.

After dismantling the Bulls last weekend, Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster’s men now face into a run of Dragons away, Zebre at home, Scarlets at home, and Glasgow away before the November break.

Generally, Leinster blast through these blocks of games without much fuss and using plenty of their squad too. The true testing ground will come later this season and there is no doubt Leinster will be in the thick of things come the business end of it all.

They’re URC favourites after winning the Pro14 last season, while Leinster are also looking to battle their way back to Champions Cup glory after a final defeat to Saracens, a quarter-final defeat to Sarries, and a semi-final loss against La Rochelle over the past three years.

“Nailing the big moments in the big games,” says Lancaster when asked what Leinster will need to do better to earn a fifth European title.

“We’ve played in lots of big games and we’ve come out on top in a lot. It’s not just that we want to win Europe, we want to win the United Rugby Championship as well. There’s a lot of inter-provincial rivalry in Ireland, there’s a lot of good Scottish and Welsh clubs, the Italians are improving, and you’ve got South Africa as well, so you want to do well in every competition.

“When you play at the top-end of Europe or the final stages of this competition, it’s how to beat the power-based teams and making sure we nail those moments. A lot of times we’ve done that over the years I’ve been here but on occasions, we haven’t.

“All the preparation we’ve done in the off-season and all the work we’ve done to date has been with that end in mind, but recognising that it’s a one-game-at-a-time job.

max-deegan-celebrates-a-turnover Leinster beat the Bulls well last weekend. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s understanding how to beat power-based teams. It’s interesting watching New Zealand and South Africa [last weekend]. That came down to one penalty in the end. One team was playing a territory game based on kicking and field position. The other team was trying to play a more unstructured attacking-minded game.

“Two of the best teams in the world, one and two, going at each other and it comes down to a penalty in the final play. It’s small margins and we want to be on the right side this time.”

Lancaster is asked which side Leinster identify with more.

“Who do you think?” he answere with a smile. “It’s a fascinating contrast in philosophy and style but we’d be definitely more aligned to New Zealand. It has been interesting chatting to [new signing] Mike Alaalatoa about the Crusaders the mentality of how they play, picking up things from him.

“We also recognise that if we need to play a pressure game, then we can do that also. I’ve been pleased with… one of the things the Bulls defence coach said after the game that they found hard to prepare for was the unpredictability and the variety of our attack. I thought we mixed the game up well and gone are the days where you can just be one trick and expect to win the big games.”

Returning to the topic of the ‘power-based teams’ – undoubtedly including La Rochelle and Saracens – it was fascinating to see Leinster switch Andrew Porter back to the loosehead side last weekend, with Cian Healy coming off the bench at tighthead.

The prospect of a starting front row of Porter, Rónan Kelleher, and Tadhg Furlong over the coming years is an exciting one for Leinster fans given just how much power that trio can deliver on top of their other skills.

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“It’s handy also to have a decent bench as wel,l so when you’ve got the likes of Mike Alaalatoa there now and a Dan Sheehan, who’s a 110kg hooker who’s coming through, and you’ve still got James Tracy and Sean Cronin and Cian Healy, Ed Byrne and everyone else,” says Lancaster.

andrew-porter-celebrates-scoring-the-second-try-with-ross-molony Andrew Porter has switched back to loosehead. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“So, I’m excited as I have been over the five years about not just the front rows but the general age profile of the squad, let’s call it, and the experience that they’re beginning to gain.

“It’s very hard sometimes to accelerate the development of players and sometimes you just have to go through it and to have now lads who have played in big games for Leinster but also now are getting to sort of 10, 12, 15, 18, 20 caps for Ireland, you can definitely sense that growing maturity in the squad.

“And I’m not just referring to the front rowers… I’m talking about James Ryan or a Ryan Baird or a Caelan Doris or maybe Jack Conan coming back from a Lions series more confident.

“Across the board, I think our age profile and our experience is developing nicely but we’re still A) very respectful of the opposition and B) of the improvements we need to make ourselves.

“But it’s exciting and the challenge is always going to be how we get those lads on the field for maybe a couple of games and they’ll go away to Ireland then they’ll come back for November and December time, play some games in Europe, get rested and rotated during the inter-pros potentially, and then play some Europe and then away for Six Nations, so it is a squad thing as well.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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