Tadhg Furlong concedes Leinster may have been ‘a small bit rusty’ in Bath
‘To make it worse we probably didn’t win the collisions, and that’s rugby really, isn’t it?
Leinster’s Devin Toner and Tadhg Furlong at the Recreation Ground against Bath in the Champions Cup. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Victory felt like a defeat, the substandard performance niggling away, lightened only by the result. Leinster’s 17-10 Champions Cup win over Bath at the Recreation Ground engendered some momentum from the Irish province’s perspective ahead of Saturday’s reprise between the teams, this time at the Aviva stadium.
Players invariably speak about winning the collisions, and that it doesn’t require any talent to be physical and diligent in terms of work rate and application. They concede that any deficiencies in these areas smart. Leinster tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong touched on those issues in his appraisal of the team’s performance in Bath.
“I felt we had lost the game in some ways. 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.
“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.
“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 and 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 [momentum], winning collisions, and we probably didn’t do that enough at the weekend.”
While the player management system in Ireland is rightly lauded for striking the right balance in regulating match minutes, there is a fine balance to be struck. Parsed through hindsight some Leinster players looked a split second or half a step off the pace based on their normal fluency and precision.
Most of the Leinster starters hadn’t had a competitive match since they were on Ireland duty last month. Given the nature of the game and the conditions, that playing hiatus might have dulled that edge.
Furlong said: “I thought we were good going into it, to be fair. We had a good week off after November, and then we had a training week coming into the Bath game. It probably didn’t play on your mind beforehand but, looking back now, yeah, a small bit rusty I would have said.”
An obvious starting point in addressing some of the issues from last weekend is the breakdown where Leinster came off second best when pitted against the poaching skills of Sam Underhill and Francois Louw in particular. So what will the home side need to do differently?
Furlong said: “I suppose we have to control the ball a little bit better. 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 on front-foot ball.”
Winning away in Europe is a tough assignment, and even through the imperfections of last weekend and a certain satisfaction in coming away with the victory, Leinster have been caught in the past in the return back-to-back fixtures at home; a game against the Northampton Saints an obvious example.
Even last season against Exeter it took the Irish province until the final 10 minutes to wrest victory having beaten the Chiefs in Devon the previous week. It’s another ingredient for the pot.
Furlong said: “I suppose you try to learn from those mistakes you’ve made in the past. I think we’ve enough on our plate to play against a very good team in Bath in the Aviva, but then we’ve a lot to fix up and improve on, and I believe that’s not a bad place to be.”