Sunday 21 January 2018

Cheika psyched up for 'biggest battle'

Leo Cullen at yesterday's squad announcement ahead of their clash with Toulouse.
Leo Cullen at yesterday's squad announcement ahead of their clash with Toulouse.
David Kelly

David Kelly

Even if all 22 Icelandic volcanoes began spewing out dense ash into European air space at once, the reigning Heineken Cup champions are flying so far under the radar ahead of this weekend's trip to France it wouldn't matter a whit.

Such has been the remarkably under-stated nature of Leinster's build-up -- on and off the field -- it seems slightly incredible that the continent's most successful capital city club are preparing for their second European semi-final in a row.

It's oh so quiet. A series of blue-clad figures pitched up in Old Wesley's club-house yesterday and it was startling to see how excellently attuned such a cosmopolitan group have become to doling out the 'Beál Bocht'.

Coach Michael Cheika got the ball rolling with his claim a fortnight ago that Toulouse probably view his side as a "little bit tender"; the bug is catching and most of his players have succumbed.


Such is their focus on the momentous task in hand against the three-time Euro champions, you reckon Cheika and company are the only ones who can actually see the crisps in those Hunky Dory billboards that the IRFU have got so huffy about.

Jonathan Sexton can barely risk sucking on a lollipop, never mind munching a packet of crisps, and his fragile jaw is still occupying much of Leinster's attention, even though Cheika is phlegmatic about deploying Shaun Berne in his stead.

Even though Sexton completed the Clermont game with the same injury -- he has since had surgery on the fractured jaw -- Cheika will not gamble by staking everything on his No 10.

"The medics -- how will I put it? -- are conservative at best!" he conceded. Given that Sexton has not even taken contact yet -- and by that we mean friendly contact as opposed to the violence of a greeting from Thierry Dusautoir -- the risk remains inordinate.

"It's not like a hamstring tear or a calf strain. It's pretty cut and dried. It's going to come down to a bit of risk assessment -- knowing what the ramifications could be and having everyone being on board with that. And, if we decide to do it, then doing it. If we decide," added Cheika.

"I'd say we're pretty comfortable with both situations. If he plays, great. If he doesn't, then we'll have him for the rest of the year and there are still some pretty big games to come, hopefully."

Sexton, given the kind of hungry fellow he is, would bite Cheika's hand off for a starting place. If he could bite.

"We'll talk," said Cheika, confirming that tomorrow is the deadline for the Irish star to prove his fitness. Burly prop Stan Wright, at one time a crash test dummy for Gordon D'Arcy's recovering broken arm, is poised and ready.

"We've got a pretty good rapport, he and I, and we'll discuss it together and see. It's going to be a qualified decision based on the information we've got. I'll ask him a few pertinent questions," said Cheika.

"He won't be able to lie about trying to play, because I know what he's like. But if he didn't think there was a chance, we wouldn't be going on with it. We're a bit in the dark but I suppose the opposition are a bit in the dark as well.

"What's a good thing is that Jonny and Shaun work together a lot, as they are our two primary five-eighths. They would do a lot of the match-planning together, even before we come to it. They work it out amongst themselves.

"They've done that all season. I like the way they work together. They've got good football brains, the two of them. That would be a normal part of their preparation in case either one of them got injured."

At least the coach expressed far more confidence about his other walking wounded, particularly Rob Kearney and CJ van der Linde, although, as predicted, this week came a tad too early for Sean O'Brien.

Having spied on Toulouse's weekend success against Castres which secured their place in the Top 14 play-offs, Cheika admits that this fourth meeting with the crack French outfit represents the toughest challenge of his five-year stint in Dublin.

Losing two league matches on the spin, albeit only one with a first-choice healthy XV, is hardly best preparation but it paradoxically feeds into the low-key build-up.

"Before that loss to Connacht I was having a look at it and I hadn't even realised that we hadn't lost for about four and a half months," said Cheika.

"We never want to lose a game, but you gotta wake up to yourself sometimes and say 'you can always be beaten'.

"If you bring the wrong attitude to any game of football you're at risk to get beaten and I don't think there's any fear of us bringing the wrong attitude to this game.

"It's been very low key, as far as the preparation is concerned, but you can almost see the determination in guys.

"I think the experiences of last year will help us because we know what it takes. Not to win: we just know how hard it will be. That's the first thing we've got to do, acknowledge exactly that this is probably going to be the toughest game we've ever played together over the five years.

"We've got to know that this is the biggest battle we'll ever have and acknowledge that and then get yourself ready for that. And then, once you're ready for it, there's a good chance that you're going to perform.

"That gets you into the match, and then if you get a bit of luck too, you might win it."

Leinster squad (v Toulouse) -- Backs: S Berne, G D'Arcy, G Dempsey, S Horgan, R Kearney, F McFadden, I Nacewa, P O'Donohoe, B O'Driscoll, E O'Malley, E Reddan, J Sexton; forwards: L Cullen, J Fogarty, C Healy, J Heaslip, N Hines, B Jackman, S Jennings, S Keogh, R McCormack, K McLaughlin, M O'Kelly, M Ross, R Strauss, CJ van der Linde, S Wright.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport