Returning Edinburgh Rugby internationalist Geoff Cross has revealed how he used World Cup down-time to begin plotting the demise of Leinster, tonight’s illustrious Rabo Direct Pro 12 league visitors to Murrayfield.
Prop forward Cross may have demonstrated an ability in the past to get the better of the two-time European champions such as during his Edinburgh debut season of 2006-07 when he twice came off the bench to help seal victories. But, out in New Zealand and aware that his Capital comeback from Test duties could come against the Dubliners, he picked the brains of Scotland colleague Nathan Hines.
Hines, while now at Clermont Auvergne, was part of the Leinster team which staged a remarkable comeback from 6-22 down at half-time to beat Northampton 33-22 and lift the European Cup last May.
Said Cross: “Speaking to Nathan, I learned what makes them so difficult to beat is the way they manage games quite intelligently. They have an ability to adapt if things aren’t going their way initially.
“This harks back to the Heineken (European) Cup Final. Certain things were preventing them from performing. So, they identified them and fixed them on the hoof.
“It is this thinking under pressure that makes Leinster succeed.
“I asked Nathan how to disrupt them. He talked about ways they like to defend, ways they like to attack with a particular pattern. There are ways to minimise that approach and at the same time maximise your own strengths.”
Cross is one of five players returning from the World Cup who go straight into the starting line-up, including Chris Paterson who will be looking to kick-on from an aggregate points total of 800.
That’s if renowned super-boot Paterson is given an opportunity since, in his absence, Greig Laidlaw has the league’s best kicking return in terms of percentage success at 86.67 including a current streak of ten in a row.
For Cross, there are other matters to concern himself with, particularly putting into effect lessons learned in New Zealand.
“I’m bringing back even more awareness of the importance of a collective effort in the set piece, direct ball carrying and support out of contact,” says Cross. “If you are a forward, particularly, in the tight five you’re job is to provide the muscle and win the collisions.” For their part, Leinster had 14 players on World Cup duty with Ireland and Cross hopes as many as possible will confront Edinburgh.
“We want to challenge ourselves. A few of the 14 Leinster internationals who were away at the World Cup didn’t get a lot of game time; nevertheless, they have the likes of Leo Cullen who is a hard working character who runs the line well and that is an indication of the threat we face.”
In some respects the form book goes out the window with teams inevitably changing their style of play to accommodate the returnees and, in theory, this could be doubly difficult at Edinburgh where some have yet to play under new coach Michael Bradley.
However, Cross insists it has been a seamless move back into Edinburgh circles and pays tribute to younger colleagues, saying: “From what I’ve seen of how Leinster have played this season they’re a bit more direct and that is an exciting challenge for us.
“It’s a credit to the guys in our squad who have been working away hard while the World Cup has been on that they have been very good at re-integrating us, showing us what has stayed the same, what has changed; generally helping us to get back up to speed.”
Referring to Edinburgh’s two wins so far, Cross adds: “Seeing some of the attacking moments against teams like Munster and Connacht and the defensive effort put in – that is a great base to be kicking off from in a team with some young backs and a young back row. As for the new coaching regime, that is something that can be taken without breaking stride.
“Change is part of professional rugby. The better you can adapt to that change the more likely it is you are going to be successful.”
Adaptation may well have been a theme for Cross but his over-riding message, having studied Leinster’s European Cup Final comeback, is that they can never be written off.
“No matter the scoreline or how long remains on the clock we have got to be prepared to compete with a team like Leinster until the final whistle. That was a really impressive comeback in the Heineken Final and showed just what they are capable of.”
Leinster go into action lying third and ten points ahead of an Edinburgh side who surely can’t expect any cheap penalties either; tonight’s rivals are now the only Pro 12 team not to have picked up a yellow card this season.