Leinster’s Champions Cup Pool 4 victory over Castres was about as routine as it gets. Bar a try just before the break for the French side, following Luke McGrath’s sin-binning for coming in the side of the maul, they were comfortable throughout, and made very light work of a side that looks set to struggle both domestically and in the Champions Cup.
However, the old adage that, ‘You can only beat the team that’s put in front of you,’ rang true for Leo Cullen’s team. An 18-point win in the European Cup is never to be sniffed at and certain aspects leapt out as strengths for the Irish province.
The maul is in rude form
Leinster’s maul is an area Cullen will champion on the training ground and it was suitably impressive at the RDS. From Devin Toner’s take at four in the lineout in the early exchanges Leinster crushed Castres to go over the line. It was similarly impressive throughout the first half as the Leinster pack looked fearsome. Expect to see more of the set piece in the coming winter months.
Sean Cronin is silencing his critics
The hooker has come in for plenty of criticism since making his Leinster debut in 2011, and indeed during his time at Connacht from 2008-2011. The criticism levelled at him largely relates to his lineout throwing and breakdown play, while his ball-in-hand work has been praised as exceptional.
Yesterday was an outing for Cronin that boosted his reputation; of that there can be no mistake. He was the marshal and finisher of Leinster’s first try off the maul. He broke from another maul and beat three defenders to crash over for a second try not long after. Leinster’s third was also of his making as he marshalled a third maul. Had Jack McGrath not gone over for a try, Cronin was in place inside the backline to be first receiver for the next attack. He’s much criticised, but Cronin is a crucial element of Leinster’s attacking gameplan and as his lineout play improves the Limerick man could potentially be coming into a season of form to remember.
Isa Nacewa has a huge part to play this season
When Nacewa left Leinster in 2013, and went on to do some TV work and mental skills conditioning with the Blues, his career on the pitch looked all but over. An unexpected re-signing in 2015 was viewed at the time as a smacking of desperation by Leinster. However, a year into that comeback he is playing scintillating rugby. Starting on the wing for this tie, his try just after half-time was of the highest order, devouring the Castres backline and beating five defenders in the process; that the try came from his stint filling in at No 9 for Luke McGrath during his stint in the bin was even more remarkable.
As Leinster look for a first Pro12 title since 2014, and a first European Cup title since since 2012, Nacewa looks set to play a vital role in breaking that duck.
Henshaw and Ringrose
It's early days and the hype brigade will be all over this one, but Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose showed glimpses of what Leinster and Ireland fans could have in store for years to come. It's definitely too early to analyse how they may nor may not work together as a duo, but in short their combination of size and footballing ability has the potential to be something special. In the Ireland pecking order it's hard to classify those two alongside Jared Payne, Luke Marshall, Stuart Olding, Stuart McCloskey and Bundee Aki (available to Ireland under the residency rule next April), but there can be no doubt that we have seen a potential future Ireland pairing begin their journey together.
Van der Flier looks set for the Ireland seven spot in the short term
With usual openside stalwart Sean O’Brien still not fit to take his place in the Leinster first team, at this moment in time Josh van der Flier looks like the man primed to play No 7 versus the All Blacks in Chicago at the start of November. The 23-year-old’s stats against Castres back up that position: 27m made; 7 carries; 1 defender beaten; 1 clean break; nine tackles (one missed).
A fit O’Brien is still first choice but until that is guaranteed Van der Flier is the man pushing his credentials.