Leinster pack vow to even score at Aviva

Rhys Ruddock has admitted the Leinster pack "let itself down" last weekend and that it is on a mission to redeem itself when they lock horns with Harlequins again, at the Aviva Stadium, on Saturday.

Head coach Matt O’Connor had bigged up his forward unit in the run-up to the game at The Stoop — and well he might have, given it contained eight Ireland internationals — but the performance on the day was disappointing.

Leinster were penalised on numerous occasions by French referee Jerome Garces at the scrum and came second best in open play as Harlequins sought to dominate the breakdown.

“I feel we probably underperformed on the weekend. Set-piece we probably weren’t as effective as we set out to be. If we can improve our scrum and get some quality ball to attack from, it will make a big difference to the way the backs are able to play and the way the forwards are able to get into the game.

“It’s a lot easier when you’re getting gain-line to move the ball quickly from the breakdown. If you’re on the back foot, it becomes a lot more difficult to have any real impact in that area and to get people away quick, speed the ball up and then in turn get over the gain-line again. So, a huge focus for the pack has to be set-piece this week.”

Ian Madigan suggested that it was the cynicism of the Harlequins pack — and the Ospreys eight the week before — that was the main reason for Leinster’s inability to claim a single try over the course of the 80 minutes, but Ruddock demurred.

Ruddock transferred the blame back onto his own pack’s shoulders, even if his own display in London hardly dropped much from those he gave last month when wearing the green jersey rather than the blue.

The flanker’s form for club and country has, in fact, been one of the most encouraging individual stories of the season so far and, at 24 years of age, he has emerged potentially as a long-term leader for his club.

Truth is, Leinster could probably do with a few.

The loss of numerous key figures on the playing and coaching staff in recent times has been well documented and the absence of Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy has only added to the shortfall of generals on and off the pitch this campaign.

“There’s obviously a couple of guys who are at the hub of the team and are really the heartbeat of Leinster rugby. We’re lucky that Leo (Cullen) is involved now (as forwards coach). We’re getting the same messages from him that we would have if he was captain.

“So, it’s nice to have him around and, from the pack’s point of view, he’s given us great guidance this week along with Marco (Caputo, the scrum coach) to solve the issues we had at the weekend.

“But there’s definitely lads who are starting to stand up as leaders within the group and dictate how we shape our season from here.”

Saturday will go a long way towards that.

Harlequins coach Conor O’Shea talked about small margins being the difference after their seven-point win last weekend and it may be that Leinster’s chances of revenge would have been better served at the more intimate and familiar RDS this Saturday than the Aviva.

The province’s recent record at the larger venue isn’t good in the last two seasons, with Munster claiming victory there in the last club fixture back in October.

“I’d probably prefer to be in the Aviva,” said Ruddock. “I just feel it’s such a big occasion whenever you set foot on that field. The crowd is a bit bigger, I just feel it’s a pretty special opportunity to play there.

“I’ve only played there a handful of times so, personally, I think it will lift us.”

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