THE CALM BEFORE the storm around Leinster headquarters. Two down weeks has allowed Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster recalibrate ahead of the final block of the season, but now the serious business starts.
This week has two elements to it. On one hand, the Leinster coaching staff are preparing the group of players they’ve been working with for the last two months for Friday’s Guinness Pro14 trip to Edinburgh.
Sean Cronin in action at UCD yesterday. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
While a home semi-final has already been assured, it’s another important opportunity for game-time and exposure, and there is also a want to build on their winning momentum.
And on the other hand, there is the small matter of the return of Leinster’s international contingent following the conclusion of the Six Nations ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Ulster.
While the likes of Sean Cronin and Rhys Ruddock are set to feature for the province at Murrayfield this weekend, the bulk of those involved during the Six Nations are only returning to UCD tomorrow, leaving Cullen and Lancaster with a 10-day window to work with before the European knockout game.
It’s not a challenge exclusive to Leinster, of course, and Ulster will face a similar situation with their captain Rory Best and Jacob Stockdale but the defending European champions are a victim of their own success in this regard.
With as many as a dozen players returning to provincial duty for the first time since the final Champions Cup pool game against Wasps back in January, Cullen and Lancaster have little time to waste in reintegrating key personnel back into their environment and systems.
“We’ve got the reintegration of the Ireland players coming back in this week alongside running a team to play Edinburgh,” Lancaster explains. “With the combination of 50-odd players fit and available for selection, we need to build a team that has cohesion and confidence and belief going into the Ulster game. That’s a huge game for us now.
While Leinster’s short-term focus remains on the game against Edinburgh this weekend, there must proceed with one eye on Ulster and beginning the process of preparing for that particular occasion.
“The actual reintegration process is pretty important,” Lancaster continues. “How you do that, how you manage it and taking the lessons from what they learned in the Six Nations, while also informing them of what we’ve been up to and how we’ve evolved during their absence.
“There is a bit of off-field stuff you need to do, but on field as well, it’s just getting them back involved in the systems and structures of the way we play.
Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO
“What we try and do is get them on-field as soon as possible, get the ball in their hands and get them playing the way Leinster play.
“There’s no better way than having a game and with such a big game coming around the corner, there will be no lack of motivation from the players coming back in to play well.”
With Johnny Sexton, James Ryan, Jack Conan, Cian Healy, Tadhg Furlong, Garry Ringrose, Jordan Larmour and Rob Kearney all set to be given this weekend off, it is likely that they will come straight back into the Leinster set-up for Ulster having last played for their province two months ago.
But Lancaster believes the way Ireland’s Six Nations campaign ended will provide fresh motivation for those returning internationals as Leinster’s bid to defend their European crown gathers momentum.
“Ireland will be disappointed by the way the Six Nations finished,” the senior coach added.
“It’s not terminal for Ireland by any stretch and the players are good enough to bounce back, number one for Leinster, and more importantly for Ireland ahead of a World Cup training camp. Our job is just to make sure we take the lessons learned from the Ireland camp and bring them into Leinster and get them going again.
“There will be plenty of players desperate to play and want to get on with it. There’s nothing worse than being a coach of an international team when you finish on a loss as you have to sit there and wait and wait and wait for your next game, but if you’re a player, you can actually put it to bed very quickly because you’ve got another game for your province coming around the corner.”
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