Leinster has announced a strong starting 15 for Castres (http://www.leinsterrugby.ie/news/12752.php#.VEo_n_nF8tw).
Finally, the return of Luke Fitzgerald has come as he is starting on the wing tomorrow. I wouldn’t expect an amazing performance from him seeing as he’s just back from injury but as we’ve seen many times before, even a little bit of magic from him tomorrow could be the difference.
Leinster should be heading into this game feeling optimistic as they faced a stronger Castres last season and came out with wins both home and away. The away fixture of course was a lot more nail biting but inspiring as it saw Leinster come back from a 14,0 deficit to win the match by 4 points!
Belief!! This will be the focus of my match report as it’s what will be the overall difference between winning and losing on Sunday. Belief is something that Leinster had in spades this time last year and it was epitomised by how they could come back from such a bleak score line away, in France, and win the match. That never give up attitude was expressed across the entire 23 man squad for 80 minutes and it paid off. It wasn’t the most polished performance but it was solid in many areas and proved so clearly that Leinster were in it to win it!!
Can Leinster reproduce of at least dip into the belief they exuded last season? I think so. If you look back to last Sunday, at one stage Leinster trailed by 15 points to a very impressive Wasps side but unlike other disappointing performances from Leinster over the season, I felt oddly confident that we could come back, and come back we did! And why did I feel that way? Well, it was the first time this season that I could see the frustration, anger and disappointment in the team after letting themselves down so early in the game. Up to that point previously this season they went about their business on the field in an almost unemotional manner and when they showed doubt, it never went away. Once I saw and felt their unease at their performance against Wasps and how much it was enraging them, I knew they could regroup and come out all guns blazing in the second half. Leinster exuded and thankfully about time (and just in time)showed belief for the first time, much like the away fixture to Castres last season! I think this is the ingredient that has been missing from the team this season and it appears to be back. Of course, it was squeaky bum time and it was an dangerous way to display it to all of the supporters but it was pure unadulterated belief none the less.
The lack of this was why we lost some previous games this season and it is belief that might just get Leinster back on track. The return of some key players from injury this week and over the next few weeks should only intensify this belief.
Whatever about the potential intensity of the game however, I expect the result to be quite close. I think the Leinster starting 15 will produce the goods early on and take advantage of territory and possession but our scrum and lineout issues of late will play into Castres hands where they are known for their quality in both areas.
Castres probably know what to expect from Leinster and will more than likely try to bully us off the ball and send their big ball carriers flying towards us in an attempt to disrupt our game plan. Pretty much the same game plan they had last year, very French and very much the Castres way. So far this season, Castres’ win lose ratio has been poor, winning only 3 out of 9 games. They also lost to Harlequins last week which will more than likely put their European desires into perspective. Will they have the belief Leinster have this Sunday? Maybe, maybe not, but I believe this will be crucial.
In conclusion, Leinster have all the big household names, all the major Irish internationals, all the records and guys who have more experience and skills in the tank than any other team in Ireland, and maybe Europe. But with all that talent, all that skill, they have struggled so much in some crucial games (Munster) and some straight forward games (Connacht) this season and instead of performing at a high standard, they got thought a master class in intensity and got shown up for a team lacking in self-belief and confidence. It leads me to believe that you can have all the skills in the world but you can fail if you don’t believe in your ability.
For example (but far from a direct one), I took my driving test earlier this week. Before I took the test, I got two pre-test lessons. After the first lesson, the driving instructor told me that I was a very competent driver but it may not be enough to pass. He said that a lot of people fail because they don’t believe in their ability despite having it. He simply told me that I need to be positive and convince the tester that I’m more than capable of driving safely. I thought a lot about what he said and I made a very conscious effort to focus on my confidence levels going into the test (which prior to meeting the driving instructor probably wasn’t very high). “I can drive with no problems at all” I thought, “but can I drive well enough on the day of the test”? I passed my driving test on Wednesday and I truly believe it was down to the confidence and belief that I brought on the day and showed to the tester at every turn of the steering wheel. Of course, I would never say that what the Leinster players face is the same as what I experienced but I strongly believe that they need to look at themselves and then at each other and if they can believe in themselves and each other 100%, they just can’t lose.
Score prediction: a positive start with an edge of your seat finish, Castres 18, Leinster 22.