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'Blues not a closed shop' insists Gibbes

Leinster assistant coach Jono Gibbes has insisted that there is still time for players to break into the all-conquering Heineken Cup first-team squad ahead of this week's derby against Ulster at Ravenhill, writes David Kelly.

A largely second-string side -- save for captain Jamie Heaslip, Gordon D'Arcy and Isa Nacewa -- put Ulster's Heineken Cup semi-final opponents Edinburgh to the sword last Friday.

And, even though it is difficult to see how much Joe Schmidt can afford to tinker with his strongest line-up ahead of Sunday week's visit to Bordeaux to face his former employers, Clermont, Gibbes is adamant his side is not a closed shop.

"Friday night was pleasing in that a few guys put pressure on for selection," said Gibbes. "The defined first-team as such, we're not there yet. Friday will give a couple of guys an opportunity. That's not our mind-set. There were some positives. We made a large number of changes but kept a little bit of consistency too.

"That was pleasing and there was some good individual stuff going on there. As a team, I think it was important to show we are improving in a number of areas. But we're by no means the finished article.

"Edinburgh put such a massive amount into the Heineken Cup game, so you have to temper that with the physical toll that had taken on them. That is not to take away from our endeavour, and the bonus point was pleasing."

Eoin O'Malley is likely to return to action and, with Gordon D'Arcy nursing a cut eye, the young centre may get a chance to shine in midfield, but most of Leinster's front-liners are likely to line out in an effective dry run for the semi-final.

Jamie Hagan (ribs) is also destined to return after being forced off against the Ospreys earlier this month.

"I think you've got to manage a couple of guys. You have to give an opportunity to some of the guys who have worked really hard.

"It's also important that you put together players with their minds focused on this one. And you have to give Ulster a lot of respect. I don't know when Clermont last lost at home and Ulster really turned up with a plan, they were right in it until the end and they attacked that game.

"And then you have the way they dismantled Leicester at home, then the way they got stuck into Munster. I think that bringing it back to this Friday night is very important. That's three big Ulster performances that have made a pretty big statement in my mind."

Irish Independent