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The Power Plays: Mike McCarthy On Subtle But Devastating Leinster Attack

Leinster attack

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In my article last week, I spoke about the progress and development that has been made in Leinster’s defence under Stuart Lancaster. 

This week, with the eastern province putting eight tries past Dai Young’s side, we take a look at Leinster’s attack and the subtleties which have allowed them to punish teams either during phase play or off first-phase setpiece moves.

There were no shortage of examples in Friday night’s 52-3 win at the RDS but in this analysis, we take a look at two instances to highlight their development.

Firstly, we take a look at James Lowe’s stunning try at the beginning of the second half which was a huge momentum shifter in this game.

Many people spoke at the time that this try was a result of Wasps being down to 14 men as Lima Sopoaga received a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on at the end of the first half.

The move was pre-planned and Leinster would have walked through this numerous times before the game as they would have identified during the week the weaknesses in the Wasps defence.

As we can see from the below screenshot, Johnny Sexton (white circle) has just received a pass from Luke McGrath after Devin Toner secured the lineout. Jack Conan (blue arrow) and Josh van der Flier (red arrow) are both running hard lines back against the grain. As well, as you will see later, both players are animated, they both have their hands up which makes the Wasps players believe that they are a genuine option for Sexton.

This is actually a massive aspect of Joe Schmidt’s coaching, he wants players animated off the ball and this has transferred into Leinster’s play. Whether you get the ball or not, whether you’re near the ball or far away, you’re selling body language that you are a genuine option to get the ball.

Van der Flier and Conan paint such a good picture that the ball is going to go to them that the Wasps defender gets sat down by Jack Conan (white arrow). You then have Robbie Henshaw (pink circle) running on an overs line. So Jack and Josh are running back against the grain from where the lineout has come from and Robbie is running an overline. So what this has achieved is that it has created separation between the two defenders and that’s where they are trying to make the hole.

Leinster attack

James Lowe then bursts through the gap which was made by Conan and Van der Flier when he receives the inside pass from Henshaw who actually plays his part in generating the space by grabbing the attention of the next defender.

I know Wasps have a man in the bin but I genuinely think the move would have worked whether he was there or not. If anything, the space is on the outside because they’re a bit narrower.

Leinster will have a list of many setpiece moves which they will tailor to their opposition. This is a classic example of Leinster exploiting a team they would have studied thoroughly throughout the week.


The next passage of play I’m going to look at is the move which led to Luke McGrath’s second try of the game.

It’s pretty phenomenal to have a front five who can handle the ball the way they do as Devin Toner and Tadhg Furlong illustrate in this move.

Something which Stuart Lancaster has brought in to Leinster is the inside wrap. You see most teams doing it but usually the player in Devin Toner’s instance would pass the ball and give it on the outside, however, Leinster do both.

There will be a call to do it from the inside and there’s a call to do it from the outside. It’s good communication, first of all, as Dev is made aware that the pass is on and it’s good execution by him too. 

The defence has to hold for Dev to give that pass back on the inside so this doesn’t allow the Wasps defence to drift which allows Leinster to exploit the space out wide.

A lot of the time in the Six Nations, when sides are close to the opposition line they would just give the ball out the back but it’s an inside ball in this case. 

A development under Stuart Lancaster is the handling skills of the front five, they’re all comfortable with their hands on the ball and we see that next with Tadhg Furlong.

His footwork just shows how the game has moved on. The front-five are all very mobile, very athletic, they’re all complete athletes. You have to be able to split the foundation of having a strong set piece, scrum and lineout maul but these guys are doing what the backs do out in those wide channels.

Leinster will again do their homework this week as they prepare to face Toulouse next Sunday and you can expect they will have plans in place to break through their defence.


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Author: Mike McCarthy

Mike McCarthy is a highly successful former Connacht, Leinster and Ireland forward - he won 19 caps for Ireland in a career which spanned 16 years.