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'Injuries our chief concern'

THE green light that screamed 'go' for the start of the season, before turning amber for a 'pause' in form and preparation, is now blazing red for the injury crisis that may 'stop' Leinster's European campaign before it even starts.

THERE were ominous signs of what was to come when Cian Healy withdrew on Friday with a bicep strain. There was far more concern for coach Joe Schmidt today ahead of Saturday's Heineken Cup opener at home to Exeter Chiefs.

Brian O'Driscoll - boy, does he look in tip-top shape - rolled his ankle and Leinster's mainstay Isa Nacewa (haematoma) took a nasty accidental bang to the upper thigh.

"It is pretty hard to get those two guys off a field in a big game like that," said Schmidt.

"Both were very much compromised running-wise. We might have to wait on them towards the end of the week before we get absolute clarity on whether or not they will be well enough to be involved in the game.

"The biggest concern for us is injury because the biggest concern coming into the game was injury and that has been exacerbated by what has happened."

Kevin McLaughlin (hyper-extended elbow) must be all but certain to miss out on the first round against the Chiefs, who hosed Conor O'Shea's Harlequins 42-28 at home on Saturday.

Andrew Conway (stinger) had to be stretchered off with an injury that looked more serious than it did later on Saturday evening. He has a fighting chance of making the Exeter match at the RDS next Saturday.

There is only so much any club can take. The simple fact is that Leinster could be missing as many as nine players against the Chiefs from the side which lifted the Heineken Cup in May.

The carnage has been compounded by greater carnage, despite the 30-21 defeat of Munster, the third straight win over their greatest rivals at the Aviva Stadium, their eighth in 10 matches, to move into fourth behind leaders Ulster.

Curve

First things first, Leinster showed a definite upward curve in intensity, attacking strategy and set-piece structure. However, there were worrying signs in defence that they seemed so powerless to prevent Munster's first try, born out of full-back Ian Madigan's ill-advised counter from the back - his defensive positioning was also suspect.

Munster look very like the Edinburgh of old these days, moving the ball side-to-side with the ploy of finding a twinkle-toed back opposite a big lumbering forward.

It certainly looked the proper approach in the seventh minute when Madigan countered with speed, but in haste, before coughing up the ball.

It was from this turnover that Munster made significant headway for left wing Simon Zebo to pop the ball up off the floor for number eight Peter O'Mahony to plant it, in what was the perfect example of how coach Rob Penney is trying to transform Munster.

Leinster knew what was coming. They just could not stop it. With time, it looked like Munster faltered as Leinster grew more comfortable with how to handle the Canterbury-tutored charge.

The problem was that this moment arrived from a turnover out of the hands of Madigan. Otherwise, Munster played with width and ambition until Leinster found the organisation and tempo in defence to match up well.

Once it became apparent that Casey Laulala, Keith Earls, Doug Howlett and Zebo were the only players able to beat defenders for footwork, Leinster just had to get into position and put their bodies on the line and heave Munster's men to the turf.

Sure enough, Leinster clamped down on the visitors, looking increasingly at ease with what was happening. The handbrake was taken off in attack too, pounding out three tries by McLaughlin, Madigan and O'Driscoll.

"It was a pretty good roll-your-sleeves-up sort of night. Hopefully, once we get through the medical centre, we will be able to put together a good side for Exeter," said Schmidt.

Leinster will certainly need all the players they can muster to fend off the unfashionable Chiefs, who have shown stunning progression under coach Rob Baxter, smashing Harlequins for a bonus-point at Sandy Park.

"With them putting 40 points into Harlequins, they are a quality side and we are very well aware that that is what they are," he added.

"If you judge them on last year's results and the style of play they developed they can put points on teams very, very quickly.

"They have demonstrated that at Sale and even Northampton, where they led at half-time and went down by only three points at Franklin Gardens. For us, it is all about recovery over the next two days."

Recovery. And rehabilitation.


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