Rob Kearney says Leinster’s training sessions ahead of last Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final were tougher than the game itself.
The Ireland full-back was making only his second start for Leinster since the end of January, along with a host of others who were similarly undercooked.
Johnny Sexton had not played for Leinster since December, while Devin Toner and Robbie Henshaw had not played since January. Garry Ringrose, Jack Conan and James Ryan had been given three weeks off since the quarter-final win over Ulster.
Kearney admits there was some “uncertainty” among the squad ahead of the visit of Toulouse, but that was blown away following the convincing victory that saw Leinster into a fifth European final in ten years.
“It makes more sense to me today than it did last week,” Kearney said, of the province’s strategy of resting players ahead of such big games.
“There is pros and cons for both. You look at the Toulouse team who have had great continuity over the past few months. They pick as close to as strong a team as they can every week.
Stuesday – as Leinster players have nicknamed the intense Tuesday sessions led by senior coach Stuart Lancaster – meant the players who had not been getting battle hardened against Glasgow or Benetton, would still be up to speed when the Top 14 side came to town.
“For me, as an outside back, I don’t mind [not playing] as much, it’s generally more the tight five who could do with some game time,” Kearney said. “But we train so hard on a Tuesday and Thursday, that you’re getting huge exposure.
“Our Tuesday session last week was tougher than the game – in some of the numbers, the GPS numbers.
“It’s more about high speed running, the ground we’d cover is six and a half odd kilometres, but it’s the sprinting numbers that are a little bit lower [in a match].
“They will take the data from a game, GPS wise, then try and structure a training to best mimic how we play on a Saturday.”
They did a job against the French side at Aviva Stadium, to set up a mouthwatering showdown against Saracens in Newcastle next month.
Having lost to Toulouse last October, and failed to convince against Ulster last month, some observers thought Leinster were a way off last year’s standards when they won all nine games in European competition.
The players said they were “10% off” against Ulster in the quarter-final, but the full back claims they proved what they were capable of when it was needed most.
“I think now we’re in a very good place,” he said. “After the quarter-final there would have been an element of, not ‘worry’, but I think players and coaches would have said we’re not where we were last season. You go to round one of Europe [v Wasps], it was probably our best performance this season, in round two you lose away to Toulouse and all of a sudden, people think we’ve lost a little bit.
“But really those sort of perceptions came into play after the quarter-final, and it was a combination of us not playing well but I think Ulster deserve huge, huge credit.