Belfast Telegraph

Cohesion is behind Leinster's stunning run, says Lancaster

All smiles: Stuart Lancaster believes Leinster are finding the right balance within their large squad
All smiles: Stuart Lancaster believes Leinster are finding the right balance within their large squad

By Cian Tracey

It's Monday morning at Leinster's UCD base and, as usual, Stuart Lancaster is running the review of the previous weekend's game, which in this case is the thumping win over Connacht.

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A short and sweet session, one would imagine, only the pursuit of perfection demands that there will always be areas that can be improved on.

Lancaster is getting used to these kind of reviews as he picks through an utterly ruthless performance and analyses how his side can get better.

There are approximately 40 Leinster players packed into the room, so, considering only 23 took to the RDS pitch last Saturday, a fair amount of others who weren't involved are present to hear Lancaster go through what he picked out of the game.

All of the Academy staff are also in attendance which, again, is nothing out of the ordinary, but when Lancaster gets word that several of the province's younger players are unable to make the session, he immediately organises another one especially for them afterwards.

Most of those guys haven't even played for Leinster yet, but such is the ethos within the club, no-one gets left out or forgotten.

It's a tough balancing act, trying to keep everyone happy, and so far Lancaster is certainly playing his role in ensuring that part of the operation is running as smoothly as possible.

Later on, after all the meetings have taken place, 34 players take to the training pitch as preparations for Sunday's Champions Cup clash with Lyon ramp up.

After blitzing each of their interpro rivals over the festive period, the one thing that really stood out was Leinster's ability to juggle their resources without ever dropping standards.

The systems that Lancaster and Leo Cullen have worked so hard to put in place means that anyone who steps in knows their role to the finest detail, which is what makes Leinster look so unstoppable right now.

"The trick is developing cohesion," Lancaster explained. "Cohesion is the most important thing that I search for in playing performances. When you constantly change the team, you're constantly asking new combinations to play together.

"I think it's important we rotate the team, we've got a lot of Ireland players so they need to be managed. Leo does a brilliant job of giving other players opportunities so we keep a freshness, a hunger in the squad.

"I can't think of many occasions in my time here that we've put out the same team two or three weeks on the bounce. It rarely happens. So the way we train becomes really important.

"If you constantly give all your attention to the starting XV at the expense of the 25-30 other players who are on the training field then you won't get the cohesion.

"I don't think it happens by accident. Constantly, Leo and I have the debate on selection where I'm like 'Cohesion is important, cohesion is important...' And he's (saying), 'Yeah, but we need to give such and such a go.'"

One wonders how the coaching duo manage to strike that right balance with such a large squad, yet Leinster are currently operating at such a level that training almost becomes as competitive as their games.

"My job as a coach is to develop that cohesion through the way in which we train," Lancaster added.

"When we get through various other parts of training, I'll pick two teams and constantly change selection within that.

"It doesn't mean it's the team more likely to face Lyon will do all the work and these guys are just holding bags. (It's) Entirely the opposite.

"Everyone is involved in every training session and everyone is coached at every training session and everyone is in every review and learning at the same rate."

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