Leinster have seemingly forgotten how to lose, having won 25 matches in succession dating back to their last defeat all of 70 weeks ago in May 2019. But if there was a week, or an opposition, to vividly remind them of that painful feeling it is Saracens this Saturday.
The reigning Premiership and Heineken Cup champions were the last team to beat Leinster in the 2019 final in St James' Park and the memory of it should serve as both a source of motivation and a warning.
“You’re correct on both counts, it is a warning and a motivation,” agreed the Leinster scrum coach Robin McBryde on Monday. “You want to right the wrongs of the past but it’s also a warning that you’re up against a quality team, a team that’s used to winning away from home, a team that’s used to winning big championships, with big game players who are vastly experienced and are very well coached.
“If anything, it’s putting us on our guard a little bit more.
“We know that last Saturday we didn’t get certain areas right, the lineout in particular, so we’re going to have to improve on that performance,” admitted McBryde in reference to Leinster losing four of their own throws.
“It’s a step up. You’re right on both fronts. I wasn’t here last year, but you can empathise with what happened, the want, the need to try and put things right. It’s a great opportunity to have Saracens coming over here to the Aviva.
“It’s a great shame that the supporters are not there to make an occasion and to give it the atmosphere the players deserve to play in. That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. So, yeah, we focus on what we can control and make sure we improve on those areas from last Saturday.”
To that end, McBryde sounded reasonably optimistic that Tadhg Furlong might be fit enough to make his return from a back injury.
“We’ve just done some light scrummaging – well, I say light, if there is any such thing as light scrummaging. He’s come through that alright anyway. Given the history and everything, you’ve to respect the medical opinion so it will be based around that, whether they think he’s too much of a risk or not.
“As far as Tadhg is concerned, he was very happy with the way the session went and he felt well, so we’ll see. We’re training again tomorrow and we’ll probably reassess tomorrow.”
If it comes to pass that Andrew Porter starts with Michael Bent on the bench McBryde will not be unduly concerned. Porter has enjoyed his most consistent run of starts and best form for Leinster, and is now a much improved tighthead from the player McBryde coached against when he acquitted himself admirably in his sole Six Nations start against Wales in February 2018.
“I think his profile in the scrum is much improved. We’ve worked quite a bit with Andrew and trying to keep his feet under him so that he doesn’t get too fully extended and up on the floor.
“He’s scrummaged exceptionally in these last few weeks and he’s done that. He’s managed to keep his feet under him and because he’s such a big man and so strong in the scrum I’m telling him that ‘the loosehead doesn’t want to scrummage against you. He wants to go up, down, whatever, but he doesn’t want you to go straight at him’.
“That’s what his strength should be and he’s well able to do it. He’s going from strength to strength and putting a lot of pressure on Tadhg. I know Tadhg hasn’t played in a while but it’s a good battle between the two of them.”
As with everyone else in the Leinster setup, the opportunity for celebrating McBryde’s first silverware with the province was limited.
“It was a bit of a surreal experience to be honest with you, the whole celebration and everything. We were left on the pitch thinking: ‘Well, did that really happen? Are we really back playing rugby? Have we really won the Pro14?’ It’s a first time experience for me to win it anyway.
“It was a very strange experience but what it did really remind everybody of is how fortunate we are to be able to return to rugby and return to day-to-day work because in the bigger picture, and it’s very easy to forget the bigger picture when you’ve got games and finals and quarter-finals to focus on you forget sometimes the commitments that everybody is making. Not just in Leinster, being away from family etc, but everybody is making those commitments.
“Having said that, obviously winning last Saturday made the commitment and the sacrifices a little bit better, but because of the circumstances we’re living in, obviously the celebrations were pretty short and muted and bearing in mind what’s ahead of us this weekend, which is going to be a massive game.”