Leinster go to Meath to clear heads and prepare
Big games demand bold moves. Leinster upped the sticks yesterday and the caravan moved on to Johnstown House in Co Meath for a sleepover. In the language of Semaphore, coach Joe Schmidt has made a declaration. Against the Scarlets this weekend in the Heineken Cup he needs everyone with him, the extra heave, the extra one per cent.
That Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald emerged injury free from last Saturday’s outing and Isa Nacewa, Dave Kearney, Richardt Strauss and Eoin O’Malley have been confirmed as back training, Schmidt’s plan to better focus minds is also an acknowledgement that a fractured season thus far could do with some cohesion.
The retreat in Enfield where Declan Kidney and Ireland held a summit meeting several years ago seems an appropriate venue for a group think-in on how to engineer a bonus-point win over Llanelli.
In the Ireland squad’s no-holds barred meeting, they confronted team issues like provincial parochialism and fidelity to the jersey. By the following spring of 2009, the squad won Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years.
This week’s challenge is a curious one for Leinster, who normally speak of process and performance: build the performance and the tries will come. And they usually do. But this week the stakes are high even by their standards .
It’s about numbers, four tries at least, ironically, the kind of end-line thinking in which they don’t ever engage. The players also know poorly-judged comments about running in scores would be perceived as the conceit of champions and end up pinned on the Llanelli dressingroom door. On the back of a 47-15 thrashing by Ulster last Friday the Welsh side will grasp at straws.
“Occasionally we just head out there for a change of scenery. It is a massive couple of weekends for us but if we don’t get things right this weekend then the second week counts for nothing,” says Leinster manager Guy Easterby.
“So it will just be about focusing the mind and a change of environment and having some time together as a group.”
That’s not it fully. Schmidt has seen how the team are coalescing again, having shed some of the aristocratic sparkle that comes with being European champions, understandable with the volume and range of talent filtering back from sick bay. Squad wellbeing may also be measured by a patchy 31-16 win away to Edinburgh. Still, the shift to Meath, surely, is a bold statement of intent.
“Possibly, and maybe that’s how the perception (will be) and that’s not a bad thing either,” adds Easterby. “It’s not that we need to focus any more but it is always good to go down there and have the game plans reiterated to you and to understand the magnitude of the game on the weekend. We have got to get a win. It’s as simple as that. If it is a one per cent help then it is a worthwhile trip.”