On the face of it, things couldn’t be much better for Leinster: 16/16 wins this season; 12 bonus points; 568 marks and scored 82 tries. Add the all-important Champions Cup top seed spot, meaning Leinster won’t have to play outside Dublin in their quest to win that elusive fifth star, and Leo Cullen must be feeling pretty good about life.
However, beneath the surface and beyond the impressive numbers, and Saturday’s 36-10 win, Flashing warning signs.
For the third game running, Leinster’s scrum was under heavy pressure, their defensive maul crumbled, and their discipline was poor.
They got away with it again on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium, but Racing 92 exposed the same old weaknesses which would prove very costly unless Leinster wiped them out in the latter stages.
Most disappointingly, Leinster worked hard last week to strengthen the set-pieces, yet despite knowing what Racing were going to throw at them, they were yet to contain the French side at various stages. were struggling.
Leinster’s fitness and ability in attack finally told, yet it would be naïve to ignore the shortcomings in their performances.
By half-time, Cullen’s team had conceded 10 penalties and although he rectified his discipline by conceding only another four after the break, 14 penalties is unacceptable for a team like Leinster – especially when their penalties in the previous two matches The count read: Gloucester (17), Osprey (13).
Pointing the finger at the hustle would be a cop-out, and to be fair nobody did it within the Leinster set-up. Instead, he recognized the need for reform.
Reliance on Tadhg Furlong remains as strong as ever, however, which should worry Andy Farrell as much as Cullen should.
Leinster’s crumbling scrum is a major cause for concern and whenever furlong does not fit, it is a time for panic for both club and country, as opposition teams now have a rare opportunity to get set-pieces after Leinster watching as
Scrum coach Robin McBride, whose role normally sees him working closely with the pack, has a huge task to get things right.
“We conceded maul tries last week, we conceded a maul try this week as well,” pointed out back-row Josh van der Flier. “I think it comes with playing with those big (teams) like Gloucester, Racing, a big pack, real physical, some really good athletes, very well prepared, they do their homework in everything .
“You’re bound to get challenged in many ways and I think Maul is definitely something. It’s been a positive for us in terms of attack and in terms of defence, it’s just one of the access points in general. Of course it is (important) to stop the opposition’s intimidation.”
With Ulster waiting in the Round of 16, and even more powerful teams likely to line up, Leinster got enough scares at the weekend to know they need to improve if they are to avoid a second successive trophy season.
Getting a wake-up call and still managing to come away with a bonus-point win is a good position to be in, as Cullen welcomes Racing to his side asking a lot of questions.
“Yeah, actually, you want to learn from games all the time,” Cullen said.
“To get that reminder, it’s like ‘oops’. It’s about making sure we’re clear on things and how we involve ourselves in the game, and if we get ourselves in trouble, How do we get ourselves out of trouble? Understanding refs, not compounding error etc.
“We’ve given away too many penalties, so we need to be better on any given day or have a better understanding of the interpretations.
“Definitely some good reminders for us. The pools are about getting through the phase and trying to get ourselves in the best possible shape.
“You’re never sure what happens during the Six Nations. We’ll plan and obviously see the games play out, but it’s a good place to be, as it’s already happened, and good seeding as well Is.
With 20 of his players joining the Ireland squad, Cullen will be hoping they all come back in one piece, especially Furlong.
Having breezed through the pool stages with maximum points and minimum fuss, Leinster have signaled their intent, and while they will need a top team to beat at home, they may not be the unstoppable force that much People think from