Slattery believes Leinster must cut loose

Thu, Apr 30, 2009, 01:00

FERGUS SLATTERY advocates Leinster will have to play without inhibition if they are to upset the formbook and the defending Heineken Cup champions Munster at Croke Park on Saturday. The former Blackrock, Leinster, Ireland and Lions flanker believes Michael Cheika’s men will have to introduce pace and width to their game if they are to advance to a first European final.

“I think Leinster’s approach to Saturday is to roll the dice. They’re in a 40-60 position (in terms of winning). They’re underdogs and have got to close that gap, before they go on the pitch. They’ve got to make up their minds (to) take on Munster and run the legs off them. That should be their strategy. If they get confrontational, (they) don’t have the wherewithal to do it.”

Slattery is perfectly placed to analyse the battle of the backrows and there is little surprise in the player he sees as pivotal to the confrontation. “Rocky Elsom is the guy I would pull out of the pack. He’s very important to his team. Leinster as a pack lack real cutting edge aggression. He has that physicality and aggression. I regard him and the Leinster backrow well capable of taking on the Munster backrow. I don’t think (Alan) Quinlan and (David) Wallace will (be as effective) if the game is dragged right across the park constantly.”

The former Irish captain feels Leinster can’t afford to let Saturday’s opportunity slip, believing it could be a while before another presents itself. He says the battle of outhalves Ronan O’Gara and Felipe Contepomi will be pivotal. “Ronan O’Gara is a fragile defender, Felipe Contepomi a little bit fragile mentally at times.

“He (Contepomi) does need to be protected, particularly early on. If I was wearing my evil hat, I’d target O’Gara, particularly off scrums. Whoever is better at doing it (getting to the opposing outhalf), is going to score a point, make that 40-60 (gap) wider or narrower. There are things you need to win a tournament, a good captain, a good goal-kicker but not necessarily the best team.”

Slattery believes the absences of Munster scrumhalf Tomás O’Leary and Leinster fullback Rob Kearney cancel each other out, underwhelmed by what he has seen of the latter. He expects neither side will take a huge advantage in the lineout but that Leinster should go after the Munster scrum.

Slattery believes one Magners League title is a poor return. “I don’t think that represents the ability and capability of the side,” suggesting Cheika can ill-afford a defeat on Saturday. Slattery is also critical of scrumhalf Chris Whitaker. “He’s under serious pressure. I’m astonished he is playing scrumhalf for anybody. I’m being hard on the guy but I just don’t understand it. I think he’s a big weakness.”

And as to the winner? “Munster on paper and form are the better side but the better side shouldn’t always win. The team with the greatest desire, leadership and (best) goal-kicker will succeed. Munster have for the last six weeks looked like champions.”

Sky Sports will show both semi-finals live and in HD, with Munster versus Leinster from 5.15pm on Saturday on Sky Sports 1/HD1.