Matt O’Connor looks ahead to games against Zebre and Munster in the RaboDirect PRO12 and discusses some tough selection decisions that will have to be made in the coming weeks…

When the season comes to a close, and Leinster staff and supporters alike are looking back over the highs and lows of the past nine months, the four games played during the 6 Nations against Newport Dragons, Cardiff Blues, Zebre and Glasgow Warriors will no doubt be seen as pivotal.

In those four games, Leinster won all, picking up 19 points, with the performances from the players that did feature proving to be especially pleasing for Matt O’Connor.

“The guys that have been with us through the 6 Nations block have been outstanding,” O’Connor says.

“We’ve taken 19 points out of a possible 20, we’ve had some very, very good wins, and by and large everyone’s been performing really well.”

Noel reid

These strong performances have put points on the board for Leinster, but they’ve also given the head coach some decisions to make with key games coming up in the RaboDirect PRO12 and Heineken Cup.

“There’ll be some tough decisions made. Tomorrow night is another opportunity for those guys to press their claim for the big games at the back end of the season. There’s not many games to go and everyone in the squad wants to be part of those big occasions and that in itself creates focus and competition in the squad.”

With the 6 Nations over and players returning to Leinster from the Ireland camp to feature against Zebre and Munster, competition for places will only increase.

“It’s really pleasing to have the Irish boys returning to the environment this week. We’ve got to try and reintegrate the Test boys as quickly as we can and thankfully we’ve got a game (against Zebre) to start that process.

“There’s another significant game the week after that (against Munster), season defining games, so you’ve got to have an eye on that but at the same time it’s about making sure we are consistent and continue to keep that standard every time we take to the field.”

Matt o'Connor

With Zebre to come on Friday night before Leinster face Munster in the Aviva Stadium, O’Connor won’t be taking the Italian challenge lightly.

“They’re an awkward side. They’re hard to beat, they’ve got a very good set piece, and they’ve got some experienced blokes, blokes who have played a lot of test footy, a lot of provincial footy. You’ve got to be on your game.”

The last time Leinster were up against Zebre, just a few weeks ago in Parma, they were held to a 10-5 half-time lead and it took an improved second half performance and a late Darren Hudson try to secure a bonus point win.

“We found that at their place last time when we were over there we didn’t perform in the first half like we should’ve, we put ourselves under pressure and it was an arm wrestle for 60 minutes. We’ll be making sure we bring the accuracy and intensity early in the contest.”

Leinster face Zebre in the RDS on Friday 21st March. Tickets are available here or you can purchase in the RDS Ticket Office ahead of the game.