Monday 23 October 2017

Leinster in a good place but absence of key players for Wasps clash still a worry

Jonathan Sexton enjoys a clean bill of health after the Six Nations. SPORTSFILE
Jonathan Sexton enjoys a clean bill of health after the Six Nations. SPORTSFILE

Victor Costello

The emotional Six Nations roller-coaster has come to a close and attention will turn to the upcoming Champions Cup quarter-finals.

With a week off for the regular Irish contingent, it's back to business as usual in the RDS come tomorrow afternoon for the in-form Leinster squad.

The Irish squad redeemed themselves with a fine display against England but victory as always came at a price.

Apart from the normal bumps and bruises, the prospect of both Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip being unavailable would be catastrophic to Leinster's cause.

Other longer-term injuries to Sean Cronin, Josh van der Flier and Isa Nacewa do, however, look more promising.

As a fan we can sit back an enjoy what was a great Six Nations but for players it's a lot harder. International squad members would have gone in to camp in the middle of winter and are released in springtime after taking a physical and mental bashing.

From the off, Ireland were on an uphill battle and with the final weekend being a success, there will be feelings of relief and a lot of fatigue.

The physical scars will be the most important to heal as come European week next week all the focus will be on Wasps and the Six Nations will be a distant memory.

For the management, what was a very successful period has now become a race against time. The idea of picking the best side for both Cardiff and Wasps is a non-runner so Leo Cullen and his team will have to plan for a worst-case scenario with some of his top players unavailable.

A week is a long time in rugby so two weeks should be enough, but there'll still be a lot of sweat lost between then and now.

Ironically, Johnny Sexton has a clean bill of health and does not have anywhere near the mileage on the clock as the rest of the players have at this stage of the season. This should benefit him, Leinster and the Lions for the rest of this season.

The Pro12 campaigners who have been keeping the flag flying will be the foundation of selection this weekend and as usual a win at home in the RDS is most likely.

Moving on to next week, their efforts will be called upon depending on the injury list. Either way, tomorrow will be a nice taster for the Wasps game with hopefully the reintroduction of some of the players who have been out injured.

Coming back from international duty will feel like a trip back to the farmland for the Ireland players. Although the last game against England was a success, there were many moments of self-doubt and uncharted territory throughout the campaign.

With Leinster being the more stable environment, it is a perfect platform for players to win silverware this season. Ideally, Leinster would want to put out their best XV the week before the quarter-final for many reasons. With the injuries, they will need to forgo this opportunity while still maximising points in the RDS .

Throughout the recent Pro12 campaign, the back-row and half-backs would have been liable to get the call from Ireland at any stage. Dan Leavy and Luke McGrath did against England and retrospectively speaking either Ross Byrne or Joey Carbery (if fit) should have for the first game against Scotland.

Disappointing

With the Leinster players operating so close to the Irish standard, it will be hard to brush them aside for the biggest game of the season.

Ross Byrne, for example, who has grown into the Leinster number 10 jersey since his injury problems, will have to step aside for Johnny Sexton and that will be initially disappointing.

However, he still has many opportunities in the Leinster jersey this season, plus the prospects of an Irish tour in the summer to continue his development.

Leinster will need to show intent against Cardiff and then with the best of the Irish against the current best of the English, a home Aviva crowd versus a sparse travelling crowd and of course the Nigel Owens factor, Leinster should be home and dry.

Irish Independent

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