Jeff Pagano has been a rugby fan all his life and started his blog HarpinOnRugby, with reports on all Leinster’s matches, in August 2008. His favourite all-time rugby moment was Leinster’s first Heineken Cup win in 2009, coming so soon after Ireland’s RBS 6 Nations Grand Slam.
Last season Leinster won four of its opening six matches in the RaboDirect PRO12, and went on to not only top the table but also come within a last-gasp Dan Biggar touchline conversion of winning the title itself.
So if you just went by the win/loss numbers, you'd be forgiven for thinking that since we have the same record after six rounds of this season, we seem poised to do the same. Unfortunately for us, some of the other numbers don't quite match up.
One of the key elements of Leinster's success in recent years has been our defence, but now, although we lie in fourth place, the only team with a worse “points against” record than us is the newly-formed Zebre.
Now standards at the RDS may be such that excuses shouldn't be tolerated but, to be fair, we have been hit pretty hard by both injuries and the Irish national team's “player protection programme”.
At least last season when the “elite” players like Brian O'Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton were away at the World Cup, we had the same line-ups togging out in blue week after week back home…this time around, only Shane Jennings has worn the same number for all six of our matches. In a sport like rugby that relies so heavily on combinations working together, it is very difficult to approach any kind of consistency, especially on defence.
This was proven to some extent last weekend as we were able to field a near identical XV against Exeter to the one we had out against Munster the week before. Many believe we were lucky to scrape a victory but one thing was for sure…the English club were never even close to crossing our line for the entire 80 minutes (mostly due to our backrow of McLaughlin, Jennings and Heaslip), and if we are back to our best form without the ball, the rest of the RaboDirect PRO12 had better watch out!
It certainly won't be easy for us though, as many sides in the competition have had fine starts. Ulster have been literally unbeatable so far, while the Scarlets and Glasgow have flown the flag for Wales and Scotland respectively. The reigning champion Ospreys didn't quite hit the ground running but have clawed their way back up the table, and of course you can never discount the mighty men from Munster.
And we certainly can't take matches against the rest of the clubs for granted either, as was illustrated by our narrow victory away to Treviso and our thrashing away to Connacht!
But when you look at the talent we have almost ready to come back from injury, like the Kearney brothers, Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O'Brien, plus a couple of new signings from New Zealand still to join us in key positions, once our squad can stay fit I have every faith in Joe Schmidt and his team to get the levels of consistency right back up where they should be