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Schmidt buoyed by return of key men as Welsh come to fight

Leinster v Cardiff Blues

The RDS, tomorrow (KO 6.30)

It would be a little early and slightly hysterical to scream 'crisis' if Joe Schmidt's Leinster come apart at home to on-song Cardiff Blues at The RDS tomorrow evening.

However, it would leave Leinster anchored to the foot of the table with the prospect of working without their foremost weapons for much of the season. It might even remove the smile from Schmidt's face.

After all, he has been boosted by the return of international leadership quality in centre Brian O'Driscoll, fly-half Jonathan Sexton and captain Shane Jennings at openside.

"I think they will bring us alittle more leadership, a little more control," said Schmidt.

"We are trying to transition them in. We have to manage their game time. They might play 60, 50 or 40 minutes. That is the preference for the Player Welfare Programme."

It is one thing to assist the national drive towards the World Cup next year; it is another to remove a match-winner like Jamie Heaslip one hour into a game that was very much in the balance in Glasgow last Friday night.

"It wasn't ideal. Jamie is one of our key leaders. He can swing a game because he is a very talented player. He probably should have come off a little earlier," said Schmidt.

"The problem is that if you transition in six players and you try to manage game time for six players, suddenly, on the bench, you start to get constricted in what you can do."

The Gospel according to Schmidt preaches patience and perseverance. He is a revered coach, a manipulator of opposition defences, more apt to pick the lock rather than crash through the front door.

In other words, he specialises in the beautiful game. To implement such innovation, he needs time to work with his players.

That is the one thing denied to him by the IRFU's Player Welfare Programme.

"As a team, we have had two training sessions. That is part of the difficulty of managing guys transitioning in. It has been left to me to manage a fair bit of their return," added Schmidt.

"At the same time, within the guidelines that are best for the players, it has been a short week in that I haven't had a lot of time with them. There is an obligation to manage their time. Once they are all back in the group, there will be a little more flexibility about when and how they play."

The in-your-face, abrasive nature of Dai Young seems to be down to the capture of the European Challenge Cup last May. At last, he has a reason to run his mouth. And he hasn't wasted it.

The Blues are unbeaten in their last nine matches in all competitions going right back to March. Maybe, the trash-talk he has trotted out is just the medicine required to spice up The Dubliners.

Young has already stated his belief that the Welsh inferiority complex when visiting Ireland is gone and The Blues started well at home to Edinburgh last week.

"What we've said as a group of players and management is that this is the strongest squad we've ever had and we've got to use it," said Young. It is just as well. Captain Paul Tito (calf), Gethin Jenkins (shoulder), Ben Blair (knee) and Leigh Halfpenny (leg) were all in the treatment room through the week.

"I think any team that writes Leinster off are foolish, if you look at last weekend's team they had none of their internationals on the pitch," insisted Young. "We know what they bring. They are very physical up front with some strong ball carriers. They are confrontational and carry hard and direct. We know we have to muscle up to stop that."

It all points to a match of muscle and might that could be decided by a touch of magic.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster: 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.


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