Thursday 26 April 2018

Aironi 'banana skin' a concern for Schmidt

Leinster's Leo Auva'a has a quiet word with Leo Cullen during yesterday's training session at the RDS ahead of their trip to
Aironi on Saturday. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Leinster's Leo Auva'a has a quiet word with Leo Cullen during yesterday's training session at the RDS ahead of their trip to Aironi on Saturday. Photo: Paul Mohan / Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It wasn't the prospect of a trip to Italy to face Aironi in the Magners League this weekend that brought 1,700 fans out in the sun to watch Leinster train at the RDS yesterday. Joe Schmidt's men have bigger box-office events on their mind.

But Toulouse and a tilt at a second Heineken Cup in three years are still more than a week away and despite last weekend's bonus-point win over Ulster, Leinster are still not home and dry in the league.

Just five points separate the second placed side and Cardiff Blues in fifth, but the men from the Welsh capital have a game in hand. And after a nightmare visit to Italy when they were beaten by Treviso in September, Leinster are well aware of the pitfalls of taking their opponents lightly.


Several big name players -- Brian O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Leo Cullen -- took a limited part in training yesterday and the squad is set to be weakened in Viadana.

Schmidt reckons he'll be lucky to have one of his two international centres in Italy, and it looks as though he will have to take quite a few youngsters on the flight.

It's an audition for the likes of Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan to stake a claim for the bigger days to come and Schmidt admits he has yet to determine his best side for the big occasion.

And he says if he was facing a European final this weekend, he would have plenty of work to do to determine their starting XV.

"We'd have thinking to do," he said. "We'd sit down and we always try to weigh up what's the best balance for the particular weekend we're playing. If it became a Heineken Cup weekend in Cardiff then there would be a little bit of consternation about some of the decisions we'd have to make."

Schmidt won't get a chance to see Heineken Cup semi-final opponents Toulouse live when the European champions take on Bourgoin in the French Top 14this weekend.

"I managed to sneak over and get a look at Leicester playing Bath, and to be honest I don't think it was that productive," he said. "It just made us that bit more scared of Leicester as they gave Bath their biggest hiding ever on their home ground.

"It did give us a look at what they can do, but we won't be going over there to have a look at Toulouse."

Saturday's opponents were in Dublin in February and gave Leinster a scare before leaving with a losing bonus point.

Leinster's last trip to Italy was one of the low points of their season. Much has changed since that night and Schmidt is now confident his difficult early spell -- epitomised that night in Italy in September when a fan blagged his way into the post-match press conference and asked the coach if the defeat was "the beginning of the end for Leinster rugby" -- is now firmly behind him.

Schmidt points to the Aironi win as a more relevant day than the loss to Treviso, and he reckons that despite sitting at the bottom of the table, Aironi still represent a threat.

"Aironi are a banana skin," he said. "The danger with there being 50 competition points between us on the points table is that there is a little bit of complacency and there is not the respect that they deserve to have shown to them.

"We trained pretty hard this morning and that is testament to what we believe is going to be a really tough test," he said. "The Treviso experience is a bit of a bad memory that is far enough away from this fixture that I don't think it is that relevant."

And he is hoping some favourable results elsewhere can help his side get a home league semi-final without needing bonus points from their final two games.

"We are hoping that someone else helps us out and we don't need nine or 10 points, that eight will do," he said.

Irish Independent

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