Leinster untouchable but not yet invincible

All good things come to an end. The question, when it comes to Leinster’s current unbeaten run, is when.

Leinster untouchable but not yet invincible

All good things come to an end. The question, when it comes to Leinster’s current unbeaten run, is when.

Leo Cullen’s side have now gone 13 games without a loss against their names this season. Add in their wins in the semi-final and final of last season’s PRO14 and they are at 15 without loss as they welcome Ulster to the RDS this Saturday.

There is far too much rugby yet to be played to speculate on their chances of echoing Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 but we are already deep in territory rarely visited as the season pushes past the halfway point and the province continues on its imperious way.

A few more victories and this team will be joining some illustrious company.

Joe Schmidt’s first season with Leinster began with two losses from three games but the Kiwi soon made light of suggestions that he was a busted flush with his team embarking on a 20-game unbeaten run that was only ended by a one-point home defeat to Ospreys in March of 2013.

Saracens managed 22 games on the trot without a reversal between April and late December of 2018 and they overtook Leinster’s own European record of 17 on the spin when going 20 games without a blemish in the Champions Cup up to December 2017.

Other notable records include the 22 games Munster went unbeaten at Thomond Park — a run bookended by losses to —and the 76 outings undertaken by Clermont Auvergne before they were finally undone at Stade Marcel Michelin in May 2014.

Leinster have done it every which way this season. They won 3-0 away to Zebre and overcame Ulster in Dublin on a score of 54-42. They became the first team to qualify for the knockout rounds of Europe with two games to spare and they are 11 points clear in Conference A of the PRO14.

Now, more than ever, they are the side everyone wants to beat.

“We talk about this ourselves,” said Ross Molony who did his bit in stretching the run as a replacement in Limerick last week. “We’ve put that marker on our own heads.

Any team that plays us, they are going to come out with their best performance of the season, just so they can take their best shot at Leinster, try and turn over Leinster who are PRO14 champions or whatever it is. That’s the kind of attitude that Connacht will come with. Being an interpro around Christmas, that adds to the excitement itself.

Leinster have managed all this in a season of disruption. The World Cup left them bereft of their best players for the opening months of the season — as it did so many other top teams — but they dipped into their vast reserves and thrived while some laboured just to survive.

That competition for places is brutal — not least in the second row.

Leinster were more comfortable there than other departments given they still had Scott Fardy, Devin Toner, and Molony on site while James Ryan was in Japan.

Molony has learned that patience and perspective are useful tools to bring to the trade.

It’s almost four years now since he was one of half-a-dozen players to make their full European debuts, at home to Bath. The likes of Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, and Tadhg Furlong have since moved up the gears at pace. Molony’s progress has been more sedate.

“You want to be playing in the European games, in the big matches. Everyone in this squad is going to get their chance. Some games are seemingly bigger than others, but we are all working towards that goal of winning, putting ourselves into the knockout stages and, ultimately, winning trophies.

“It can be frustrating at times,” he added.

I don’t intend to get too bogged down in it. You keep taking the opportunities you have, the moments you get on the pitch. It is not a very long career. You have to enjoy it while you are there.

Signs are he is going to be handed a significant brief this weekend for a game that is rarely short of testing for Leinster. Connacht have been a consistent thorn in their side in recent years even if it is 2002 since they last won in Dublin.

That winless streak should have ended just over 12 months ago only for Leinster to steal the spoils with three late tries, having trailed by 17 points with a dozen minutes to go.

Odds are that someone will pip them to the finishing line at some point soon but the longer this streak continues the more people will talk about it and the pressure will build.

That this is even a possibility as January begins is incredible in itself.

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