Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport Rugby

Leinster must turn the Aviva into a second fortress

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

One of the banners that adorns the stands at Leinster's RDS home reads D4tress, and whether it's self-aware or a bit smug, it is certainly accurate.

Matt O'Connor has never suffered defeat while sitting in the coaching box at the province's home ground.

The Aviva Stadium is a mere five minute walk from Simmonscourt but it seems that the different surrounds are having an effect on the Blues.

The 24-23 defeat to Munster in October was Leinster's third loss in their last five games at their second home and is clearly on the players' minds this week.

Tomorrow's meeting with Harlequins will be the 13th match the province have played at the Aviva since it was re-developed, with the home game against Munster and the pre-Christmas back-to-back matches now firm fixtures on the calendar.

The first eight of those encounters were winning ones, including Heineken Cup quarter-final victories over Cardiff Blues and Leicester and the 2011 semi-final win over Toulouse.

Clermont put a dent in that record in December 2012 and Northampton Saints repeated the trick a year later. With Munster getting in on the act this season, the balance appears to be tipping out of Leinster's favour.

Of course, the type of game Leinster bring to the 52,000-capacity stadium means they are harder to win. Interprovincial derbies and high-stakes European clashes are no gimmes.

The commercial benefits of moving games to the bigger stadiums are obvious, but given O'Connor and his team find themselves in something of a predicament in Pool 2, they would probably prefer some home comforts.

"It is irrelevant," O'Connor said this week. "It's about making sure we put out a performance that meets the standards we demand of ourselves. We have had a rough time in the Aviva in the last couple of games there but at the same time I think Leinster won eight or nine games on the bounce there before that."

Defeat in their last two European games at the Aviva cost them dear, with the loss to Clermont making their bid to make the quarter-finals nigh-on impossible and the reverse to Northampton Saints last season costing them a home quarter-final.

A defeat to Harlequins tomorrow night would be cataclysmic for this campaign and make qualification an uphill battle.

The stadium won't win or lose the game, but the crowd can help if they're given a reason, and improving their recent record at the Aviva would be a much-needed good news story for the province.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph