Blues bruised but improved

IRELAND coach Declan Kidney must have breathed a sigh of relief to see Leinster scrum-half Isaac Boss and hooker Sean Cronin emerge unscathed from what turned into a bruising pre-season encounter with Northampton Saints at Donnybrook last night.

However, new signing Steven Sykes could be out for two-to-three weeks – he suffered a knee injury in the 19-14 defeat – and is sure to miss the PRO12 opener against the Ospreys next Friday night. “There is nothing drastic there I don’t think. We will get him scanned tomorrow and we will be able to confirm it on Monday,” reacted coach Joe Schmidt.

The second row could miss out on the first three matches, including two hometown appointments against the Dragons on Friday week and Glasgow Warriors this day fortnight. The former Natal Shark will join fellow South African Richardt Strauss in sitting out round one of the league. They could be joined by back-three player Andrew Conway and centre Eamon Sheridan. “Andrew rolled his ankle. There could be a bit of ligament damage there. We hope he is not too bad,” said Schmidt. “Eamon Sheridan got hit on the knee and twisted it. We hope it is just bruising. It is uncomfortable. He was pretty jarred at the time.”

On a positive note, full-back Isa Nacewa and centre Eoin O’Malley should be available for selection next Friday, the latter withdrawing at the 11th hour from last night’s match due to dehydration and weight loss caused by a tummy bug. In truth, Northampton were well worth their victory, dominating the ball and the physical exchanges for their out-half Stephen Myler to shoot three first-half penalties for a 9-0 advantage.

Quicksilver wing Paul Diggin clutched Sheridan’s risky floater for an intercept try on the hour and replacement stand-off Ryan Lamb landed the conversion for a deserved 16-point gap. The introduction of flyhalf Mat Berquist – he looked a quality operator again – and number eight Leo Auva’a seemed to spark Leinster to life, the latter bouncing off tacklers to prompt a counter-attack almost converted into a try by Fionn Carr. Hooker Jason Harris- Wright, on for Cronin, pounced from a lineout and drive, while wing Carr benefited from centre Brendan Macken’s subtle touch to strike for final quarter tries, both converted by Berquist. “It was more a physical war, a more collective unit combat from Northampton than Melbourne last week.

I thought we stood up and took a step forward,” insisted Schmidt. “Ironically, we won last week and lost tonight. But, I thought we improved our performance, particularly defensively.”