Luke McGrath injury could have implications for Ireland
Leinster scrumhalf sustained knee injury during win over Toulouse at the RDS
Leinster’s Luke McGrath is helped from pitch. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
It was an afternoon when Leinster’s squad depth was rigorously tested and the response was emphatic. It was a performance for the ages, bristling physicality, ruthless control and superbly husbandry of the ball on foot of which they wore Toulouse down and then exploited the windfall from the pressure.
Four tries, a bonus-point victory, and a statement that the champions retain a firm grip on their title defence. The only blemish on the afternoon was a knee injury sustained by Leinster’s excellent scrumhalf Luke McGrath.
Leinster’s head coach Leo Cullen said that he had done some damage but was up walking around. Looking at the slightly bigger picture it will be a concern for Ireland coach Joe Schmidt as McGrath and John Cooney (back), who pulled out before Ulster’s match, join Connacht’s Kieran Marmion on the treatment table.
The manner in which Leinster’s senior players led and those who came in for several high profile absentees slotted into the team dynamic was understandably a source of satisfaction. Cullen admitted: “Definitely, a lot of guys have been fighting hard to get in the team and have been unlucky at various stages during the year with some of the selections and that is the way it is, the way we want it; it’s not something we just say. It’s the reality.
“I am delivering bad news to people on a weekly basis. They just have to be able to deal with it, try and improve, get the feedback, get better and wait for the next opportunity. That’s the cycle that they are in. We want guys to go in, play well.
“Ultimately they pick the team, we just fill in the names on the team-sheet, with the actions that they produce, that we see on the field and every day that we train as well. It’s a good competitive group. They all want to be involved; they know what is at stake.
“There are big games coming up whether with Leinster or Ireland and they all want to go on and represent not just Leinster but Ireland as well. It was a good step today for a lot of them.”
Leinster, playing against a strong wind, controlled the opening 40 minutes for large tranches and deserved to be further than 10-6 ahead at the interval. Cullen wasn’t unduly concerned. “Not too much, we knew that it was going to be very difficult playing into that strong wind, so for us it was about managing the possession, not giving anything cheaply to Toulouse.
“And for the most part I thought we did that pretty well. There were a couple of chances that we had. I thought Toulouse we quite clever when we had a penalty advantage, they killed that advantage quite quickly sometimes by giving away another penalty. They managed that period well.
“The game was a bit disjointed it was a bit stop start. I thought we held our shape, held out composure well. Toulouse have a lot of big guys in the front line, they know it is going to be very hard for us to keep the ball; we have to carry, so they are able to defend with more guys in the frontline and they have some big bodies that we have to run into and they deal with some of our runners well.
“We lacked a little bit of cutting edge a few times when we could have been a little more clinical. Ultimately we close out the half and get a try. We keep our noses in front and backed it up quite quickly in the second half.
“We played in the right areas and when it came to a big defensive set we shut them out. I’m a little disappointed that we conceded that try right at the end but (Cheslin) Kolbe was someone that we talked about in the lead in to the game and he was a threat constantly.”
He confirmed that Leinster will enjoy the win but thoughts are already turning to next week’s final pool match when Leinster travel to the Ricoh Arena to take on Wasps. “You have to turn the page quite quickly. It is the next challenge. We are at the top of the pool but we still have a big job to do next week.
“We will see how guys come through. Some who missed out today on tight calls, some who ran out of time in terms of their injuries, others getting close to coming into consideration, others who picked up bangs, we will make all those assessments.
“We already have made a plan about Wasps threats. We had a tough day over there a few years ago. We understand fully how tough a challenge it will be. Listening to (Wasps coach) Dai Young talking about the mindset they are going to adopt this week, they are going to be a tough challenge for us.”
He confirmed that “two or three players” who missed the win over Toulouse may come into contention for next week’s game. For now though the coaches and management deserve to luxuriate in a superb victory.