Monday 5 December 2016

Six Nations heroes fit for Leinster's Champions Cup bid

Matt O'Connor has a full squad to choose from

Michael Verney

Published 02/04/2015 | 15:20

Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip and head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference. Leinster Rugby Press Conference, Leinster Rugby HQ, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Leinster captain Jamie Heaslip and head coach Matt O'Connor during a press conference. Leinster Rugby Press Conference, Leinster Rugby HQ, UCD, Belfield, Dublin. Picture credit: Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has declared a healthy selection headache with all his Irish Six Nations heroes fit to play this Saturday's mouth-watering European Rugby Champions Cup quarter-final against Bath.

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O'Connor confirmed his squad to be in peak shape in anticipation of a tricky assignment at the Aviva Stadium when they face a a side he knows well from his days with the Leicester Tigers.

Scrum-half Eoin Reddan trained today and apart from Kane Douglas (hamstring/back), they have a full deck to choose from with multiple players vying to make the starting XV.

"The front row, the back row and the back three are going to be the toughest decisions that we'll have to make but thankfully there's lots of quality blokes to choose from. It's about the balance in the front row over the 80 minutes," O'Connor said.

"The back row is always a juggling act with regards to the skill set of the boys, the back row the same. We'll have to roll the dice and hope we come up with the best combinations that will deliver the best for us on Saturday."

O'Connor said the returning Six Nations champions have bedded straight back into the squad and feels they're in a much better position than this time 12 months ago.

Sean O'Brien is fit for Leinster
Sean O'Brien is fit for Leinster

The Aussie coach said: "The Six Nations took a pretty big physical toil on the lads last year, particularly the last game against France which beat up a lot of the guys. They're physically in a far better place and excited about the challenge that Bath pose.

"The Test boys have come back into the environment really well and trained excellently. They've given us a very positive vibe which has been great and are in a very good mental state."

O'Connor paid particular praise to flanker Sean O'Brien, who he described as ' extremely fresh', and the massive role which the barrelling Carlow man plays when fit.

"Sean helps to take the pressure off Jamie in a leadership capacity because he knows he'll have him right there beside him. He's been fantastic this week.

His form throughout the Six Nations got better as it went on and to have fresh at this stage of the season is a huge bonus."

Of opponents Bath, O'Connor was quick to praise their youthful exuberance and 'carefree' playing style but hopes to draw on some experience of Ireland's Six Nations win against England this year in an effort to reduce the effect Six Nations sensations George Ford and Jonathan Joseph have on the game.

"With time and space there as good as anyone there is in the game but like in the Ireland game we'll respect that but we'll try to take away their space and limit their opportunities.

"That's what we'll be trying to achieve when they have the ball. If we're inaccurate they have the skill set to punish you in the attacking areas."

O'Connor has huge respect for coach Mike Ford and his side, who have been training recently with rugby league side Wigan Warriors in an effort to unlock defences, and feels Leinster must bring their A game.

"They are probably the most talented young English squad in the Premiership by some distance and they have a dangerous backline. We'll have to on our game for the entire 80 minutes.

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