Gibbes counting down to Jennings' return
IT will be a week of firsts in the Leinster camp this week ahead of tomorrow's scheduled showdown with Glasgow in the Magners League at the RDS.
Yesterday saw Kiwi forwards coach Jono Gibbes' first experience of snow and rugby at the same time, but slightly more crucially, both Jonny Sexton and Shane Jennings are in line for a first taste of action since a hand injury and suspension respectively.
With the games in Ulster and Connacht already called off and Thomond Park on standby for Munster should Musgrave Park be deemed unplayable, Leinster are expected to make a decision at lunch-time today on whether their game will go ahead, with the possibility of a Saturday evening kick-off also being touted.
After last week's clash with Connacht was postponed, coach Michael Cheika will be keen to see his side afforded some action ahead of the back-to-back Heineken Cup matches at home to Brive and the pool-deciding visit to the Madejski Stadium to face London Irish.
Of particular concern is the lack of exposure both Jennings and Sexton have gotten in recent weeks. Jennings spent part of his hefty 12-week suspension on pre-season training in Australia and while Gibbes praised the flanker's attitude and application during the course of his ban, he admitted there was no amount of training that could make up for "the real thing".
"Since he's been back in our environment, he's been helping on game-day, running water, running messages and his training involvement on the field has been bloody good. He's a selfless guy. He's a team man. The team are really looking forward to having him back on the field.
"Twelve weeks is a long time, and he's been doing some pretty rugged game-like conditioning. It's not the real thing, and if he gets a run that would be really good for him."
In the backs, Shaun Berne deputised admirably at out-half as Sexton recovered from the injury he picked up in Ireland's win over South Africa in the Autumn Internationals, and Gibbes agreed that the game going ahead this weekend is vital to the entire squad.
"It's pretty important in the context (of the Heineken Cup). It's also important in that we are back at the RDS and get to face the top-of-the-table team who are really confident and are consistently performing this season. We get to measure ourselves and get to take them on. It would be less than ideal to go into those (European) games without two weekends of rugby.
"I'd be pretty confident that Jonny is physically ready to play. The direction Shaun Berne gave us in Jonny's absence was fantastic, and I'm sure Jonny can get in there and settle into the driver's seat just as easily as Shaun did."
Despite the weather conditions, Gibbes insists that Leinster's preparations have received little or no disruption, which has allowed them to name a strong squad for the visit of Glasgow that includes 13 Ireland internationals and 10 Academy graduates.
"Our training facilities here are really good, the field hasn't frozen so disruption has been minimal. The players trained really well and everyone has their fingers crossed that the RDS ground staff are able to work a miracle, the weather co-operates and this game goes ahead."
With Michael Cheika on his way back Down Under at the end of the season, Gibbes indicated a desire to stay on when fellow Kiwi Josef Schmidt takes over as head coach.
"He's highly regarded in the New Zealand system," Gibbes said of the incoming head coach. "Of all the backs coaches going around, his name kept popping up. He's an out-of-the-box thinker, he's his own man and his ideas are different to some of the established coaches in New Zealand rugby. Everyone I have spoken to about him has great things to say about him.
"I've really enjoyed my time. It seems to have gone really quickly to be honest. I've definitely really enjoyed the players that I've worked with. I really enjoy the forwards I work with day to day. They are highly motivated, pretty intelligent -- though not all of them! -- and deep-thinking rugby guys."
Meanwhile, Glasgow head coach Sean Lineen has made just once change to his side, with Johnnie Beattie coming in at No 8 for Richie Vernon, who is suffering from a flu bug.
"This is a big test for us," Lineen commented. "We are away from home against the European champions, but the players are really up for it. We know what Leinster are about and we know they have a great pitch will attract a massive crowd."
Leinster (Squad v Glasgow) -- J Fogarty, C Healy, J Heaslip, N Hines, T Hogan, B Jackman, S Jennings, S Keogh, R McCormack, K McLaughlin, S O'Brien, M O'Kelly, M Ross, R Strauss, D Toner, S Wright, S Berne, G Dempsey, D Kearney, R Kearney, S Keogh, F McFadden, I Nacewa, P O'Donohoe, B O'Driscoll, E Reddan, J Sexton.
Glasgow (Team v Leinster) -- B Stortoni; DTH van der Merwe, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans; D Parks, C Cusiter; J Welsh, D Hall, M Low; A Kellock, R Gray; K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie Reps: TBC