Girvan Dempsey working on ways to sharpen Leinster attack
Seán O’Brien struggling to make Glasgow trip as backs coach eyes clinical approach
Luke McGrath’s injury is not as bad as first feared and should be fit for the trip to Toulon. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Whereas Mike McCarthy returned to action last week and Richardt Strauss is expected to be declared fit and available this week, Seán O’Brien – the third Leinster player to suffer concussion in the defeat to Wasps – will have to undergo the full five-day return-to-play protocol again this week. The Lions flanker thus remains a doubt for Friday’s Guinness Pro12 game in Glasgow.
Meanwhile, scrumhalf Luke McGrath suffered a medial strain in his knee which is likely to sideline him for the trip but should see him return to fitness in time for the trek to Toulon; an inestimably better forecast than initially hoped.
Leinster’s performance in beating Ulster on Friday was much more of the huff-and-puff variety than the vibrancy Connacht demonstrated at Thomond Park. Even so, the win was badly needed, ensuring that their UCD base was a better place to return to than it had been over the previous two Mondays.
“You really look at his game last weekend and I thought he played really well,” said Leinster’s newly installed backs coach Girvan Dempsey.
“He says himself there were two kicks he wasn’t pleased with. Outside of that, you look at his double effort in defence – he had some fantastic cover efforts. Ulster half-breached us at one stage. He doubled under in defence and end up getting a turnover from holding up the Ulster player; his double effort back into the 22 to make another tackle.
“Some of his trademark plays and some of his running lines and his passing were excellent. I think he was harshly called back for a forward pass towards the grandstand side at one stage. He’s bubbling away. He’s getting back into it. He’s enjoying it. I think he’s improving week-on-week.”
Sexton left the pitch with a stiff back after taking a bang, and was heavily iced, but the injury is not deemed to be serious, although it would be no surprise if he was one of those rested on Friday.
The game against the reigning champions, who’ve also suffered for being a chief supplier to the World Cup, is the latest in a lengthy and demanding mid-season itinerary, which continues with an unlikely do-or-die mission away to the three-time reigning champions Toulon on Sunday week.
“It’s great,” said Dempsey, repeating himself to emphasise the management’s enthusiasm for these upcoming games.
“All the coaches and the players are looking forward to it. We know there are big challenges ahead. But we’re only looking at Glasgow. It’s the same as it was last week. It’s fourth versus fifth. They’re reigning champions. We know that going over there, we’ve got to be very accurate, very clinical. We know we’re not going to get as many opportunities away from home. It’s important that we do take those.
“The other games, we’ll take them one at time. We can’t be thinking of Toulon and take our eye of Glasgow because we know how important it is to stay in the top four in the Pro12.”
Dempsey spoke of “trying to provide a framework for guys to play around and make decisions because we feel that we have some smart footballers and guys with a lot of skills. We want to afford them the opportunity within that framework to make decisions on the field. You do give direction from the set-piece obviously in terms of how you start the attack. We are looking to try to penetrate and trying to play. Once we get there, we are looking to be able to allow them to make decisions.”
Beating Ulster 8-3 last Friday was “about winning ugly” and he lamented that Leinster only came away with one try from eight entries into the Ulster 22. This showed the need to be smarter and more clinical.
“What I mean is having a clear picture of just what it takes to break down the opposition defence in those areas. We tended to split our resources, break away into ones and twos and not really challenge the defence, by either dragging them or putting them into an area where we can exploit space or opportunities somewhere else. We just didn’t do that collectively as a team.”