THE GATES WERE shut, the pitch deserted.
After opening their latest Heineken Cup campaign with a gritty win away to their bogey side Ospreys, Leinster players were afforded a little extra time off today for recuperation – reward for a job well done?
“I think it was a case of necessity,” says Kevin McLaughlin after finishing up a mild recovery session with the squad.
“There was a lot of mangled bodies. Everyone worked hard at the weekend – our As had a game as well -a lot of guys are bumped and bruised, but we’re gonna train all guns firing tomorrow and make sure we’re prepped to play better next weekend.”
From an away day against a pack crammed with Lions as Ospreys are, playing better is a big step up. That very call, however, is a signal that this Leinster side are coming back to their bullish best. In a way, Rob Kearney summed up the transition after admitting that the overwhelming post-match emotion was “relief.”
He added: “had we lost that we’d have been in a tricky place. Especially given the couple of weeks before – poor against Munster, Glasgow – this week would have had a real different dimension to it had we not won. I think guys are happy, but knowing it’s one of six.”
Hearing Kearney, or any Leinster player, deal in what-ifs is an unusual occurrence; the uniform mantra has long been one game at a time . However, after only two wins from five games, a new man at the top and experienced heads chopped out of the reckoning for one or the other’; an element of doubt had set in. Shaking off the Indian sign of the Ospreys has been a tonic.
The make-up of Leinster’s pool – including Premiership finalists, Northampton and Top 14 champions, Castres – means that very few winning bonus points will be carved out. This will be a group of knock-out rugby with winning the only currency that can buy a way to the quarter-finals, and McLaughlin predicts that only a number one placing will be enough to progress.
“Obviously we’ll be considered favourites,” said the flanker who will make his 100th appearance for the province this weekend. The easy confidence is oozing back towards the surface accompanied by the knowledge that their destiny is in their own hands.
“With this group you take it week by week: it’s six games and you basically target six wins, only one team is going to go through from the group. You’ve got to win your home games.
“At the end of the day the way we’re looking at it as the French champions are coming into town.”
Better rest up, so.