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Dublin: 17 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

Furlong demands Leinster hit another gear in Aviva showdown with Bath

The defending European champions have yet to hit their straps in the pool stages, but that leaves a lot of room for improvement.

IT’S FUNNY HOW success shifts expectations, how the benchmark for standards is raised and how a seven-point victory at one of European rugby’s traditional citadels is suddenly viewed in a completely different light.

The mood in Leinster’s UCD headquarters on Monday morning, Tadhg Furlong admitted, was almost as if the province had lost last Saturday’s round three clash against Bath at the Rec, not come out the right side of a tough away trip.

Tadhg Furlong Furlong pictured at UCD earlier this week. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

That’s not to say Leinster weren’t pleased with the result, and the fact they managed to come away from Somerset with four hugely important points for their Pool 1 tally, but such is the level of performance they have consistently hit, Saturday’s, by their own admission, didn’t quite reach those standards. 

Having lost at Toulouse in round two, bringing an end to Leinster’s unbeaten streak in Europe, Leo Cullen’s side were not at their best against Bath, the Premiership side pushing them all the way by causing untold havoc at the breakdown and generally bullying the visitors physically in an arm-wrestle of a contest. 

“I suppose the things that hurt you the most is lack of effort, when you give up on something, when you don’t break a neck to get somewhere, that’s the toughest to take,” Furlong said.

“But physicality probably ranks a close second. Look, it’s a mixture of everything, isn’t it? They’d good line speed, the ball was greasy, there was a heavy wind. It was very hard to get into how we wanted to play. To make it worse, we probably didn’t win the collisions and that’s rugby really isn’t it? It’s about go-forward, winning collisions and we probably didn’t do that enough at the weekend but it’s a credit to Bath as well and the line speed they had.”

Leinster, in some ways, are a victim of their own success, with their own internal expectations just as high as what supporters now expect to see from Cullen’s side on a weekly basis.

“Coming in this morning I felt we had lost the game in some ways,” Furlong admitted.

“Lads were disappointed with the performance and I suppose we do set the standards high. We want to be ambitious, we want to go well in this tournament again, we probably didn’t reach that level of performance at the weekend, so it is a little bit disappointing, yeah.”

After beginning their title defence with an emphatic dismissal of Wasps at the RDS, Leinster were frustrated by the nature of their defeat in Toulouse, conceding a late intercept try when they could, and should, have killed it off earlier.  

Devin Toner and Tadhg Furlong Furlong in action against Bath at the Rec. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Having won all six of their pool games last term, Cullen’s side have left themselves with work to do this time around, with fellow four-time winners Toulouse leading the charge at the halfway mark in Pool 1, which places even greater emphasis on Bath’s visit to Dublin on Saturday teatime [KO 5.30pm, BT Sport].

“I think the ambition and the hunger is there,” Furlong continues. “As a person, you hate losing and you love winning so much that it drives you. You set the standard for yourself that you would hate to see yourself dropping off it and if you do or did drop off it, it hurts. I think every player wants to drive on and be as good as they can be.

I think there’s definitely more in us. There are always areas for improvement in our game. We’re a small bit disappointed with how we played at the weekend.

One of the key areas of improvement Leinster will have identified is winning that battle at the breakdown, after Bath’s potent pair of Sam Underhill and Francois Louw got the upper hand at the Rec.

“I suppose we have to control the ball a little bit better,” Furlong agreed.

“Obviously they have world-class talent at poaching ball and we didn’t deal with them well enough at the weekend. When you talk about people getting poached, there’s so much that goes into it to stop it, it’s the ball-carry, how close the support are, how the ball-carrier fights on the ground to get the ball back, how early the support arrives, there’s so much that blends in to make that cocktail of a ruck.

“I think there are areas of sharpness we can add to every one of those, that we have to, at the weekend. You’re talking collisions as well so we can hopefully play with the front-foot ball.”

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Ryan Bailey

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