Friday 24 November 2017

Schmidt keeps fingers crossed for final fling

Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile
Joe Schmidt. Photo: Sportsfile

Hugh Farrelly

IRELAND'S draw with France during the Six Nations was likened to "kissing your sister" and there was a similar underwhelming undercurrent surrounding Leinster's progression to the Pro12 final on Saturday evening.

There is no questioning Leinster's desire to land this trophy, but the Heineken Cup final against Ulster exerted a predictable inhibiting influence on Joe Schmidt's men against a committed Glasgow outfit and threw up its share of injury concerns while next weekend's opponents rested up.

The only player almost certainly out is Eoin O'Malley after a heavy knock on the knee in his first match since March 23. But there are serious concerns over Brian O'Driscoll (knee), who is not expected to train until Thursday, with Cian Healy needing to be helped off, as was Gordon D'Arcy, who was quite woozy and carrying a nasty cut to his head (nine stitches).

Rob Kearney had to sit out the match with a sore back and, though there are no major fears about the full-back's availability, the run-in to Twickenham is far from ideal for Schmidt, who would have preferred an extra day's preparation.

"The Pro12 is really important to us and we wanted to make sure that we had our full side out," he said. "But we have another Pro12 team (Ulster) to play who are a very good side and who have been able to rest their entire squad this weekend and don't have the bumps and bruises we have got.

"An eight-day gap just gives you enough time to get a bit more recovery into the guys. At best seven days will compromise our first training of the week and at worst, we will only really get one training session in and maybe a few guys who are touch-and-go might not make the game next weekend. Having come from the French system, they often pick and choose and say 'we will flag this and go for that' and I'm pretty sure that's not what they (Pro12) want to happen. It would have been great if we had an extra day."

argue

It is hard to argue with that logic, although the upside is a decent hit-out to focus minds, as opposed to the Ulster men, the majority of whom will have gone three weeks without a match after their frontline players were rested for the defeat by Munster on May 5.

When Leinster went 19-3 ahead after 68 minutes, it was job done and attention clearly started to wander to Twickenham as Glasgow were able to cross for two late tries by Doug Hall and Stuart Hogg.

"I don't think they (Glasgow) had their eye on any other prize apart from (this), but once that 19-3 lead was secured, I do think that we relaxed," said Schmidt. "We were pretty disappointed with that because that is not something that we would be known for."

It was a decent display by Sean Lineen's men in his last match as coach. Glasgow may have lacked the overall quality of their opponents but, with the breakdown in chaos, they tackled well, limiting Leinster to a solitary, well-worked, try by Dave Kearney.

Jonathan Sexton kicked beautifully off the tee, although several efforts out of hand went straight to Glasgow hands, and with Richardt Strauss and Devin Toner marshalling an excellent line-out display and the scrum going well, the foundations were in place to ensure a home win.

The reality for Ulster is that Schmidt, who dismissed any New Zealand notions of a return to Auckland, has taken this squad to such a level that, even if he were to be without Healy, O'Driscoll, D'Arcy, Kearney and O'Malley, there is still sufficient cover quality to claim a second Heineken Cup in succession.

Aside from injuries, there are selection issues to ponder with Eoin Reddan under pressure from Isaac Boss at scrum-half, Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney (who both went well) battling hard for a spot in the back three, while Kevin McLaughlin made a decent impact off the bench as he seeks to dislodge the industrious Shane Jennings.

The flanker, for one, was happy to have a game the week before the big one, but accepted that improvement is needed against a quietly confident Ulster side, not to mention the resurgent Ospreys in the Pro12 final back at the RDS on Sunday week -- a repeat of the 2010 decider won by the Welsh.

"I like to play, a lot of the lads like to play," said Jennings. "It showed we need to improve on a lot of stuff and it was a good run out, they're physical at the breakdown and hopefully we can pick up on a few things, learn from our mistakes and that will benefit us next week."

As will a positive injury update today.

LEINSTER -- I Nacewa; F McFadden, E O'Malley (A Conway 49), G D'Arcy (I Madigan 21, D Kearney (I Boss 77); J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy (H van der Merwe 51), R Strauss (S Cronin 57), M Ross (N White 65), B Thorn, D Toner (L Cullen 57), S O'Brien (K McLaughlin 55), S Jennings, J Heaslip (capt).

GLASGOW -- S Hogg; F Aramburu, A Dunbar, G Morrison (P Murchie 65), D Van der Merwe; D Weir (R Jackson 57), C Cusiter (H Pyrgos 69); R Grant (J Welsh 65), P McArthur (D Hall 55), M Cusack (M Low 47), R Gray (T Ryder 57), A Kellock (capt), R Harley (J Beattie 77), C Fusaro, J Barclay.

REF -- G Clancy (IRFU).

Irish Independent

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