How can Ireland capitalise on Leinster's success?
May 19, 2012
Will a relatively fit Brian O'Driscoll be able to inspire Ireland to an historic Test victory over New Zealand next month? © PA Photos
The immediate thought as soon as Leinster confirmed their status as the finest club side in Europe (again) was: how do we transfer this style, verve and ruthlessness into the Ireland side?
Leinster claimed their initial Heineken Cup title in 2009, a few months after Ireland had landed their first Grand Slam in 61 years and, at that point, the two successes seemed intertwined. However, from there to here, Leinster have kicked on, raising the quality of their play and piling success upon success while Ireland, save for the occasional big result, have regressed - despite having access to the majority of the Leinster starting line-up.
In the search for ready explanations, the easy conclusion is that the Ireland coaching set up is not at the same level as the management team assembled under Joe Schmidt but it is not that simple.
The fact that Schmidt works with his player on a daily basis, with copious time to tone and tweak and instil his methods is a considerable advantage compared to the brief windows afforded to Ireland head coach Declan Kidney and his lieutenants Gert Smal (forwards) and Les Kiss (backs and defence),
There is also the fact that of the step up in quality at international level, where defences are tighter, set-pieces are stronger and there is less margin for error.
However, what can be drawn from Leinster's success and the manner with which it was achieved is that Kidney has players with ability to play an inventive style of rugby within the creative structures installed by Schmidt - now rightly touted as possibly the best coach in the world.
To follow the Leinster template, it only requires a relatively meagre number of plays with the licence to expand upon them. To watch Leinster probe and prod for weaknesses in the Ulster defensive line and then strike ruthlessly when they were identified was to observe a club team operating at international level and the fact that 12 of the starting side are eligible for Kidney's touring party to New Zealand points the way forward.
Not all them are likely to be in consideration for the three Tests with the world champions, the view could be that Leo Cullen, at 34, and on a restricted training regime due to wear and tear may not be up to the rigours of the tour while Ulster's Stephen Ferris, excellent in defeat on Saturday, is likely to claim the No.6 jersey ahead of Kevin McLaughlin (who completely justified his selection for the final).
However, six of the seven backs who started for Schmidt against Ulster could do the same in the first Test in Auckland on June 9 and, while Kidney would love to have access to Isa Nacewa also, Dave Kearney has proven his worth this season in that vacant wing slot.
That would mean that, on form,11 of the Ireland 's starting side could hail from Leinster with three Ulstermen and a solitary Munster player - a far cry from the situation a couple of seasons ago when the southern province dominated the Ireland line-up.
One of the most remarkable aspects to Leinster's latest European triumph was the contribution of provincial and national icon, Brian O'Driscoll. This is a player who, just over seven days previously, was undergoing emergency keyhole surgery to repair cartilage damage after twisting his knee.
When he hobbled off in the second half, you feared the worst but a matter of minutes later O'Driscoll was trotting back on to the pitch to see the game out and afterwards declared that his season is only getting going now due to his long lay-off following shoulder surgery.
That is wonderful news for Kidney who, after a disappointing Six Nations, needs his talisman back, not only as a world class centre but as captain and inspiration. Paul O'Connell's likely absence from the Test series due to his knee problem places an extra emphasis on leaders in the team and having O'Driscoll, driven by probably his last opportunity to participate in a victory over the world's foremost rugby nation, would be a massive boon for Kidney and Ireland.
That would provide a spine of leadership through the team, from Rory Best to Jamie Heaslip, Jonathan Sexton, O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney at the back.
So, to draw on Leinster's triumph and current form and put it all together in green, you would be looking at a starting line-up that reads: R Kearney (Leinster); F McFadden (Leinster), B O'Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D'Arcy (Leinster), D Kearney (Leinster); J Sexton (Leinster), E Reddan (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster); D Ryan (Munster), D Tuohy (Ulster); S Ferris (Ulster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
New Zealand World Cup-winner Brad Thorn was quoted recently as saying that the All Blacks should be wary of the quality Ireland will be bringing south and that is a line-up that would demand to be respected.
Now it is about getting those individuals to perform at optimum levels. Wales have mastered it under Warren Gatland, where players raise their game several levels when they put on their national jersey.
And those are individuals who are part of regions that struggle badly in the Heineken Cup, Kidney's side will be made up of Leinster winners, oozing belief in blue - now would be the perfect time to discover how to make them 'gods' in green.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Hugh Farrelly is a rugby writer for the Irish Independent newspaper
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