Much-changed, but Leinster highly-motivated to bounce back in Italy

Tito Tebaldi celebrates in the RDS. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

IT’S FITTING THAT Leinster go into today’s Pro14 meeting with Benetton (kick-off 3pm, eir Sport) on the back of defeat. Because it serves the eastern province a timely reminder that the Italians inflicted the lowest point of last season’s incredibly successful campaign.

The hosts in Stade Monigo probably would have been happy enough to see the bear go unpoked and welcome Leinster with an afterglow of French victory. Instead, the double champions cross the Alps on the back of a one-point defeat.

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It was a one-point loss, and in an utter throwback of a Toulousain atmosphere, yet this Leinster side don’t sleep soundly after losses and 28-27 has not rested happily on their shoulders. So despite being an intercept pass away from a gutsy win, all week long they have sounded like a team who are absolutely stewing.

Sexton had a watching brief for the loss to Kieran Crowley’s side in the RDS. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Even with 12 changes from the side that started in Stade Ernest Wallon, the group which has set out for Treviso today will be hell-bent on righting wrongs on behalf of the collective.

“It’s important that the club bounce back. Whoever plays against Treviso, they beat us at home last year, already we’re pretty motivated going down there. We need to get back on track,” said captain Johnny Sexton this week.

Leo Cullen’s men have an impressive record of rebounding from defeat. Last season, all six Ls were followed by Ws and they have not been beaten in successive games since the dying days of the 2017 season when Ruan Pienaar’s grand farewell party was followed by a home Pro12 semi-final loss to Scarlets.

Indeed, that loss proved to be the catalyst for so much of last season’s glory. However, the out-half doesn’t accept that losing is a necessary stage before success..Nor that the end of the 10-match winning run in Europe will take a touch of pressure off the champions.

“If anything it puts the pressure on. All of a sudden Bath are back in it,” Sexton says with an eye on Pool 1.

“Sometimes you can win, you don’t take the lessons as much as when you lose.”

In the days after losing in Toulouse, Sexton can’t help but look to a strikingly similar situation and feel that Leinster ought to have learned from.

“It was like déjà vu,” said the 33-year-old, drawing the line between the Champions Cup semi-final loss to Clermont in 2017 and Sunday’s slip-up in Toulouse.

17 months ago, Leinster suffered an early barrage in Stade Gerland and were 15 points down to Clermont inside 15 minutes. As they did in Toulouse, Leo Cullen’s men reeled in yhe deficit and scrapped their way back into the game, but ultimately the head-start was too much leeway to afford to a fearsome rival on French soil.

Sexton leaves the field in Toulouse. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Just the first 15-20 minutes we can’t make the mistakes that we made. Then we did really, really well and showed good character to get back into it, score the three tries and be in a great position.

“Then to revert to how we played in the last 15 minutes, the amount of mistakes in different areas of the game. They needed a little bit of luck to get the try, but it was a good try all the same for them.

“It’s the first time they filled that stadium in years, we were told after. The crowd were incredible, it was a cauldron, but it was something we should have handled better. We spoke about it, we knew what was coming and we didn’t handle it. But we’ll learn from it.”

It goes without saying, but it’s a lesson that is better learned now than at a point deep in April when there is no room for error, no safety net and no chance to bounce back.

With internationals around the corner and the Ireland head coach’s contact a talking point, during his interview as a Mace ambassador Sexton touched on the early days of Joe Schmidt’s reign in Leinster. In the formative stage of his tenure in 2010, the Kiwi presided over a brainstorm meeting about what was required in the group.

He waited, heard a number of answers, before eventually revealing the correct one. Humility was the quality Schmidt wanted to his players to cultivate in the group, building on an incessant work ethic created by Michael Cheika.

It can be a difficult trait to maintain when pockets are laden with medals, or there is a trip to Italy on the agenda with bigger games afoot. Though defeat can easily sharpen the mind, bring lessons into focus and bring about that humble streak.

“The humility would be in preparing well and not underestimating the opposition,” says Sexton.

“I don’t think we got complacent, I just think we made key mistakes at key times. A lot of them were individual errors – a missed line-out call or a missed lifter or a missed tackle.”

Tommaso Iannone on the attack against Leinster in April. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With November on the horizon and five starts already under his belt from eight Leinster outings, Sexton won’t be in Treviso to drive the standards personally. Yet Cullen has no shortage of experience in his ranks with Sean O’Brien captaining the side, Rob Kearney in to marshal the back-field and 10 more internationals through the starting XV.

They’ve succeeded in one revenge mission already this season, going full metal jacket to squeeze Connacht, and the eastern province have the weaponry to set the record straight with Benetton today and exorcise that lowlight in a season of so many highs.

Benetton Rugby

15. Jayden Hayward
14. Ratuva Tavuyara
13. Ignacio Brex
12. Alberto Sgarbi (captain)
11. Monty Ioane
10. Antonio Rizzi
9. Dewaldt Duvenage

1. Derrick Appiah
2. Hame Faiva
3. Marco Riccioni
4. Irné Herbst
5. Federico Ruzza
6. Giovanni Pettinelli
7. Michele Lamaro
8. Marco Barbini

Replacements:

16. Tomas Baravalle
17. Alberto De Marchi
18. Simone Ferrari
19. Alessandro Zanni
20. Marco Lazzaroni
21. Tito Tebaldi
22. Tommaso Iannone
23. Angelo Esposito

Leinster

15. Rob Kearney
14. Adam Byrne 
13. Rory O’Loughlin
12. Robbie Henshaw
11. Joe Tomane
10. Ross Byrne
9. Jamison Gibson-Park

1. Jack McGrath
2. James Tracy
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Scott Fardy
5. James Ryan
6. Seán O’Brien (captain)
7. Dan Leavy
8. Max Deegan

Replacements:

16. Bryan Byrne
17. Ed Byrne
18. Andrew Porter
19. Ross Molony
20. Rhys Ruddock
21. Hugh O’Sullivan
22. Noel Reid
23. Conor O’Brien

Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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