LEINSTER MEAN BUSINESS.
Kevin McLaughlin has the scar to prove it.
Yesterday he arrived back in from a stormy photo-shoot at his club, St Mary’s, bearing blue stitches above his right eye.
The cotton wool appears to have joined the growing list of absentees at training. And McLaughlin revealed that his minor but telling scar was not the only wound needing treatment after an intense Monday work-out.
“We went on the training field to put things right and there were a few scars after that session. But I think it was a very productive session and I hope it will prove itself (worthwhile) against Munster,” he said.
‘Fun’ was the way Mike Ross wryly described what he expected from training this week, but it’s been anything but. It seems to be all action and no talk as players leave the field to sit in a silent rage, considering their distance from the regular high standards.
“Everyone’s been in pretty bad form, it’s been a lot quieter dressing room this week,” a tone the 28-year-old feels comfortable with.
“It means guys are focused on the job. And we’re so keen to put things right we almost don’t have to come out and say it. The coaches have said their bit: what we’ve done wrong, what we have to do to put things right. Everyone’s keen to put the heads down and get on with the job.”
Pride undoubtedly took a hammering in Galway; but with the result coming a month after the concession of six tries in Parc y Scarlets, the flanker says confidence too is currently trading at a low ebb.
“It’s very easy to forget about Twickenham last May. It just takes one defeat and everyone in the camp is feeling it. There’s a bit of gloominess around and your confidence does take a small bit of a hit.”
The swagger may be gone, but there is resolve. McLaughlin asserts “we know what we can do” when explaining that, as a unit, the squad is upbeat about turning their fortunes back around. Certainly, having the Gonzaga boy and his fellow front-line internationals available (or as many of them as can currently stand) will be a help.
Personally, McLaughlin is unbeaten this season having only played two games; two victories of the three Leinster have recorded. The gloom at club level isn’t far off the All Black cloud still hanging over the national team, but the blindside was one of a few players to return with much credit from the June tests.
“I’ve said it to everyone I’ve spoken to: I absolutely loved every minute of the tour out there… apart from the last 80.
“It was an amazing experience for me; I hadn’t been on tour before. I was supposed to go to New Zealand and Australia three years ago, but I got injured on the last day of the season.
“The other guys were tour veterans (this year), I was enjoying every minute of it, like a kid at Christmas.”
At 28, the ‘kid’ is now a seasoned-pro with a shockingly low number of caps to his name thanks to a spate of knee and shoulder troubles in his earlier career. Presently, though, he’s enjoying a long spell without a serious injury. Not to mention his rugby.
“I don’t really think about it like that,” he says when asked about his five caps. “I’m 28, but I feel young. I’m fitter, stronger than I’ve ever been. I’ve had a run now of two, two and a half years without a serious injury. I’ve never had that in my career and I think that can have such a positive impact on your ability.”
Sitting in St Mary’s club-house, he does not feel the need to touch wood when he talks about his run of fitness. Luck doesn’t really come into it. There are some things you can’t control, but the back row works hard to ensure what were once weak spots in his body are kept strong.
Every sinew will be strained against Munster, he can promise Leinster fans that much. Munster arrive at the Aviva Stadium with an obvious new style, but the blindside flanker will be part of a pack with a very simple plan.
“The number one is trying to get our physicality back. I think we’ve been lacking a bit in that area in the last few weeks. It’s an area where we’re normally strong.”
The European champions are hurting in more ways than one and all they want on Saturday is to ship those feelings south.
Kevin McLaughlin was speaking at the launch of Under Armour’s charged cotton Storm range, a fiber designed to shed rain while retaining the comfort of cotton. For more information visit Under Armour’s web-site or follow them on Twitter.