Schmidt delight as Irish stars return to boost Leinster
BRIAN O'DRISCOLL is back to bolster Leinster's Magners League challenge as coach Joe Schmidt welcomes back a clutch of internationals for the clash with the Cardiff Blues at the RDS tomorrow (6.30).
As well as the Ireland captain, Jonathan Sexton is back at out-half, openside Shane Jennings captains the side and Mike Ross starts at tight-head prop after recovering from a calf strain.
Two more returning internationals are named on the bench, with loose-head prop Cian Healy and scrum-half Eoin Reddan set to get their first taste of competitive action.
The changes allow Isa Nacewa to move back onto the wing where he proved so effective last season, with Luke Fitzgerald continuing at full-back and Sean O'Brien packing down at blindside wing-forward.
The World Cup player management policy means Schmidt has not had a lot of time to work with the Ireland front-liners, but he believes they can lift the squad after the disappointment of last weekend's loss in Glasgow.
"It's brilliant," said the New Zealander. "It's given us a bit of a boost after what was a really disappointing defeat last Friday night.
"We lost our way a bit in the second half against Glasgow and they will bring us a little bit more control, a little bit more leadership and experience.
"Shane Jennings is a very vocal player, organises himself well on and off the field and organises the guys around him as well.
"Jonathan Sexton will add a bit more to our kicking game, which was poor against Glasgow, so I think Jonny will give us a little bit more control.
"And Drico brings what he brings -- a group of skills and experience that can add to us.
"It's been a short week in the sense that these guys haven't had a lot of time (with us) but we're taking advantage of an extra day so it's been an eight-day week."
Against Glasgow, the player controls saw Jamie Heaslip substituted in the second half, with the Warriors kicking on to secure a comeback victory.
The careful controlling of Ireland's international contingent is complicating matters for the provinces but, while Schmidt admits to an element of frustration, he says it is up to the coaches to make it work. "Yeah, it's frustrating but it's also part of the challenge," he said.
"How effective can I be in preparing the team to play together as a group who haven't really run together until this week?
"But it's not like Jonny Sexton hasn't played with Fergus McFadden and Brian O'Driscoll before or Shane Horgan and Isa Nacewa and Luke Fitzgerald.
"It wasn't ideal (taking Heaslip off). Jamie is one of the team leaders and a player who can swing a game because he is a very talented player. He probably should have come off a little bit earlier but once we lost John Fogarty (to a yellow card) I probably slipped up and lost my time management and he stayed on a bit longer."
Schmidt built up an impressive CV as backs coach with French Top 14 champions Clermont and is excited by the prospect of working with Sexton, although that process only started properly this week.
"Yeah, this week on a one-to-one, 'let's try and do it this way' basis because he's been outside the rugby programme.
"But I really like the way he is quite open and at the same time gives feedback himself, to try new things and determine whether or not that would fit for him.
"I find him a really top-rank professional and a really talented young man.
"Now, it's about trying to rejig a few combinations and it's been as simple as that, we're not trying to do anything too fancy.
"We're just trying to get guys comfortable playing with each other again and hopefully develop our own style as well."
LEINSTER (v Cardiff) -- L Fitzgerald; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; N Hines, E O'Donoghue; S O'Brien, S Jennings (capt), J Heaslip. Reps: J Fogarty, C Healy, S Shawe, M Galarza, D Ryan, E Reddan, I Madigan, E O'Malley.