CJ growing into life at Leinster

THOUGH only a Dublin resident a matter of weeks, CJ van der Linde is well able to empathise with his Leinster colleagues’ pitiful record in Murrayfield, a venue they visit again this Saturday for their opening Heineken Cup match of the season.

The Irish province has lost eight of its last nine games in the Scottish capital. Their last two European campaigns have been stymied by ignominious defeats there and the South African knows just how that feels.

“It was back in 2002, six years ago,” he said yesterday. “I was a sub. It was my first cap for South Africa. It was nice to play there, although we lost 21-6. It is always an honour to play for your country.”

He has exorcised those demons by claiming victories in Murrayfield in 2004 and 2007 with his country, but he chuckles knowingly when it is put to him that the atmosphere will be very different this weekend. Though its capacity is just south of 70,000, an attendance of 7,000 is considered a bumper draw for the Scottish region. The echoes and empty spaces make for a strange backdrop.

“We will get our intensity from each other. I am used to playing back home in front of not many people sometimes. When you are in the heat of the battle, some guys get their energy from the crowd but you just have to go out there and do it.”

With successive defeats to Munster and Connacht, van der Linde and Rocky Elsom’s Irish sojourns haven’t gone according to script so far. Adapting to the ELV interpretations this far north of the equator has been one of the main challenges.

The Springbok was penalised for a handful of offences at the breakdown at the Sportsground but he accepts that it will take some time to adapt to new rules, new surroundings and new team-mates.

“It is difficult to come in and just know everything on the spot but it was better already on Sunday. We knew the plays better and how the other guys played but it will take time to settle in. We are almost there.”

Having rested a number of senior players for the trip to Galway, Michael Cheika has predictably drafted the likes of Brian O’Driscoll, Girvan Dempsey, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip back into the reckoning.

The back-to-back interpro defeats have left searching questions to be answered by a side tipped as serious European contenders a fortnight ago.

“There are a few lessons to be learned from the last two games,” admitted forwards coach Jonno Gibbes. “You don’t get a lot of benefit from sweeping things under the carpet.

“A few decision-making areas will be addressed. Losing is never a pleasant experience, and certainly not two weeks in a row. Maybe some of the mistakes were repeated, which is disappointing.”

Van der Linde echoed those thoughts by lamenting a lack of discipline in the Leinster ranks in his two games to date but he feels, results notwithstanding, the games against Munster and Connacht will stand to them in the days to come.

“The intensity of the Munster game was almost like a test match. The physicality was right up there and, on Sunday, I think we just had poor discipline but the intensity was also there. You could see from the Connacht guys that it was one of the big games for them. It was very intense as well. It is what I expected.”

Being a South African and a prop, the comparisons with Ollie le Roux have been widely discussed since van der Linde’s signing but he swats away talk of any similarities. For a start, he is far less talkative than his compatriot who, despite the brevity of his stint with the club last year, assured himself cult status with his performances on the pitch and his nature off it.

“It is difficult to compare yourself against another guy. Ollie is a great player. He has played 54 tests for South Africa and I don’t know how many, maybe 200 or more provincial games so he is one of the good guys of rugby.

“He is a great rugby player but I won’t compare myself to him. I don’t think that is appropriate.”

LEINSTER squad (v Edinburgh): Forwards: C Healy, R McCormack, B Jackman, J Fogarty, CJ van der Linde, S Wright, L Cullen, T Hogan, M O’Kelly, D Toner, R Elsom, C Jowitt, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip, Stephen Keogh.

Backs: C Keane, C Whitaker, J Sexton, L Fitzgerald, Simon Keogh, F Contepomi, B O’Driscoll, G Brown, S Horgan, G Dempsey, R Kearney.

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