Early days but the signs are that Leinster have learned from their limitations last term and are looking to add some inventiveness to what was a ponderous attacking template in Leo Cullen’s first season in charge.
Eleven tries in their first three Guinness PRO12 ties is evidence of enhanced ambition, and it was symbolised by the sight of Sean Cronin stationed out wide and shovelling the last pass to Isa Nacewa in Edinburgh last weekend.
“There was a big focus on the skill aspect of every player in the squad during the pre-season,” said the hooker. “It’s been evident in the pre-season games and the few games we’ve had: that keeping the ball alive and looking to offload. It’s hard to quantify whether it’s on or not but we trust each other’s skill levels to pull it off.
“And you could see at the weekend glimpses of it again — and in the first few games — of lads keeping the ball alive in contact and not being stupid to push the pass. It seems to be working for us so far. I suppose it was a nice little push pass out to Isa on the weekend and it managed to get him over for a score.” It was evident throughout the previous campaign that attack was an area in dire need of inspiration and, if Connacht made that abundantly clear in the league final in Murrayfield in May, then further lessons have been absorbed since.
Cronin will likely be among those Irish internationals plotting the downfall of the All Blacks come late October and he took keen interest in watching fellow hooker Dane Coles last weekend. Stationed out wide time and again, Coles was the penultimate link in the chain for three of New Zealand’s tries against South Africa in Christchurch: just another example of the all-court press from Steve Hansen’s men.
“They’re an awesome side. You can’t see a weakness in any area of their game at the moment. I’m sure Joe (Schmidt) is sifting through videos to see what he can come up with, but they’re an awesome side. They’ve got guys who can come in there if someone gets injured. (Anton) Lienert-Brown came in at the centre for them and is a superb player. With their back row, they’re an awesome team and it’s going to be a huge challenge.”
Hard to believe that the first of those two games against the world champions is little over a month distant already but Cronin and the rest of Schmidt’s squad have a few duties to attend to first.
Last week’s 33-20 win in Edinburgh saw Cronin and three other internationals feature for the first time this campaign and the hope for Leinster is that the absence of any World Cup distractions will lend itself to a more cohesive season.
“It definitely is a massive difference, to get that block of pre-season, to be amongst the lads and working with the coaches. Last year was a bit ... there was a huge focus on the World Cup and a lot of us were gone for the summer. So it was a bit stop-startish when we came back and integration was tough.
“I think we came back in and there was one PRO12 game before Europe, so it’s a lot better this year. Everyone is kind of on the same page a lot quicker.”
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