Tadhg Furlong wants to make a statement despite qualification
Visit to Montpellier is chance to end long Leinster’s losing streak in France
Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong at Leinster training. The handling by forwards has been key to Leinster’s expansive style of play. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Players abhor a vacuum where apathy may lurk. Instead there needs to be a focus on the mechanics of performance to eke out a win, something definite, tangible and worthwhile.
Leinster travel to Montpellier on Saturday having wrapped up pool honours and a home quarter-final when the playoffs come around in April. They don’t need a victory and there are several permutations that can deliver a top two seeding without one. On a superficial level the need isn’t pressing but Leinster are far from ambivalent to the outcome at the weekend.
It’s been a little over three years since the Irish province last won a Champions Cup match in France, October 2014 to be precise, when they squeezed past Castres Olympique. Since that day they lost a couple of semi-finals to Toulon and Clermont Auvergne, pool matches to Toulon and Montpellier and last season drew 24-24 with Castres.
The Leinster players understand the value of making a statement on Saturday against the French Top 14 leaders; they want to prove something to themselves as much as anyone else. Tadhg Furlong got 10 minutes off the bench three years ago in Castres and has known nothing but heartache with Leinster in France since.
“It is a massive challenge for us against a really quality outfit [who are playing] at home. Playing in France is different because of the crowd, the atmosphere; they get behind their players and gee them up. At times it can feel a little bit intimidating.
“As a group the challenge for us is can we deal with all those aspects, can we deal the extra hour on the flight, staying in a French hotel where the food might be a little bit different and playing against a really good side in a challenging atmosphere, and still perform?”
Leinster’s ability to entertain while winning, producing a brand of rugby that demands high levels of competency is something the players have embraced and enjoyed. The forwards are front and centre when it comes to some natty offloads, Furlong in the van.
He explains that there is considerable emphasis in training on all players mastering high levels of handling skills irrespective of position and that it extends to sessions indoors.
“Even within our gym sessions there are mini little skill blocks broken into sets. To progress as a rugby team and play the way we want to play it’s fundamentally important that the members of the pack are all comfortable with ball in hand. I think the more time that we spend training the way we are training, the emphasis that Stuart [Lancaster] puts on it, the better and better we are becoming at it. It’s nice to see that progression.”
He concedes that touring with the Lions to New Zealand last summer accelerated his development. “I think it gives you confidence. To start three Tests was a great experience. I suppose to be given a bit of leadership in the scrum with [Lions scrum coach] Graham Rowntree was really good and seeing a different perspective.
“I think the main thing that comes off it is that you’re sharing knowledge and techniques and processes with people from other countries, coaches from other countries; you get a different viewpoint on a lot of things.
“It probably makes you take stock, it gives you stuff to think about and it pushes you on. It’s a hard one to describe what I’m thinking, but it gives you confidence. I think it generally makes you a better player.”
Furlong smiles when asked whether he is part of the leadership group at Leinster, replying that he isn’t and nor is he privy to their conversations. “I always enjoyed the saying ‘look after your own shop’ or ‘if it’s to be it’s up to me,’ so a lot of the time I try to get my own ducks in a row and perform.
“I wouldn’t be massively vocal in team meetings or stuff like that, I just try to earn my stripes and work hard. Maybe down the track when you’re 27, 28, 29 you can sort of maybe think about that but at the minute I’m happy enough to focus on myself and try to perform as best I can.”
No injury concerns
Leinster have no injury concerns arising from their victory over the Glasgow Warriors for the visit to the Altrad Stadium.
Backs coach Girvan Dempsey confirmed that Johnny Sexton had recovered from a bang he received in scoring a try, jarring his neck after being clipped by Warriors wing Niko Matawalu. He was replaced by Ross Byrne after 49 minutes.
Adam Byrne had a small procedure last Friday to resolve an ongoing knee issue. He is not available for Saturday’s game.