Monday, August 27, 2018

Leinster new season preview by Kevin O'Brien


So here we are about to embark on a new season. As ever I look forward to the campaign with a sense of optimism. From a Leinster fan’s perspective last season was about as perfect as it gets. Top of the heap in Europe and convincing winners of the Pro14. We enter the new season in very good shape. That’s not to say there won’t be significant challenges including player management, improving rivals and loss of significant experience from the squad.
Our competitors in both Europe and the Pro14 have strengthened and a tough challenge in both competitions expected. As is always the case, teams will be only to eager to knock the champions off their perch, so Leinster will have to surpass the high standards set last year. In addition, for me the squad has lost some key personnel with Heaslip and Isa’s retirement and Murphy and Carbery moving to our rivals. Murphy proved to be a key member of the squad last year after finally overcoming the injury problems which plagued him. Yes, Leinster remain well stocked in back row options however Murphy’s versatility, quality, experience and work ethic will be missed. The loss of Carbery, if I’m honest, still smarts a little. Whilst I get the bigger picture re Ireland and his playing time etc he is a young, highly talented player who I feel is destined for great things. To hear ROG say how excited he is to see him at Munster feeling Carbery could spur our Southern brothers onto big things tells you all you need to know.
The other potential obstacle to be overcome could be increased pressure brought about but the demands of the player management system in what is a World Cup year. Players and their minutes on the field will be more tightly managed by the mothership to ensure that as many guys as possible are in good nick come World Cup time. Leinster used 55 players last year and it is likely that a similar number will be needed again this term. The slight worry for me is the under-performance at times of some of the supporting cast last season as evidenced by the home loss to Treviso and the hammering handed out by Connacht in Galway. With the likes of Edinburgh, Scarlets, Ulster, Dragons, Munster and others having improved their squads it is imperative that all players called upon maintain high standards throughout the season if we want to be in the shakeup for silverware again.
There are challenges as highlighted but there are plenty of reasons to look forward to the season with great optimism. The squad, despite the departures, remains one of the strongest around. Yes, there are some areas I would like to see strengthened like hooker and perhaps another option at scrum half but by and large the playing group provides excellent depth in most positions. The arrival of Tomane will help boot options at centre where we might have been a little thin last season. It would only be fair to expect the younger guys who burst on to the scene last year like Larmour, Porter and Deegan to continue to improve with the likes of Caelen Doris, Ciaran Frawley and Josh Murphy and others expected to develop further and provide telling contributions when required. We can expect Seanie (please God let him have an injury free run) and Van Der Flier back from their injuries soon further increasing the options in the backrow. All in all, it remains a very strong, motivated and highly competitive squad capable of challenging on all fronts again this season.
Girvan Dempsey aside, the main coaches from last year are all in place again providing strong continuity in this department. After all the rumours linking Stuart Lancaster to any available job in the Premiership it’s great that he remains in situ. His contribution to last year’s success has been well documented and he remains a very important part of the Leinster set up. Much to my wife’s delight, (her fancy man), Felipe Contepomi is back involved in the set up having replaced Dempsey as attack coach. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the club with the hope being we see some of the attacking flair he was known for as a player.
It’s going to be another tough competitive season, however Leinster are well placed to challenge again with a highly talented and well coached squad who last season found out how to win again. My expectation is that we won’t stand still, that we will continue to improve and develop under the guidance of Cullen and Lancaster. The competition across the board have improved and we will have to be even better than we were last year to ensure success. Will we match last year’s achievements? Who knows. But I for one am anticipating another strong showing this season. Roll on the big kick off.
Come on you boys in blue.

Kevin O’Brien (@kmjob73) : Rugby mad Leinster man exiled in Connaught. Father of 3 with wife who hates sport but tolerates rugby.

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