Monday 19 February 2018

Gibson-Park and Nacewa link up with Leinster team-mates as focus turns to Cheetahs clash

Isa Nacewa and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park were denied entry to the country and forced to return to Europe.
Isa Nacewa and scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park were denied entry to the country and forced to return to Europe.

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Cape Town

Leinster pair Jamison Gibson-Park and Isa Nacewa have linked up with the rest of the squad in Cape Town as Leo Cullen's side begin preparations for Friday's Guinness PRO14 clash against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

The Irish province came through Saturday's win over the Southern Kings relatively unscathed, with Ross Byrne overcoming his ankle problem. Fergus McFadden is the main injury concern and he is being monitored through training this week.

Nacewa is likely to return to the team as captain after being ruled out of the opening game due to a visa mix-up, with Gibson-Park expected to provide cover for last weekend's man of the match Luke McGrath.

The squad arrived in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon and watched the All Ireland football final at their team hotel.

James Ryan is unlikely to feature as he waits on scan results after injuring his foot last weekend.

They will spend most of the week at sea level before moving to the high altitude home of the Cheetahs on the eve of the game but assistant coach Girvan Dempsey, who played at the Toyota Stadium in 2004 with Ireland, does not believe the conditions will play much of a role.

"It was a long time ago, but it was good. It was an international game, it was a challenge and a big game," the former full-back said.

"The altitude wasn't a massive factor, it does impact you in the latter stages when you're making sure you're still within reach, that you're on the front-foot.

"We're happy with where the squad is in terms of fitness and how we're playing the game.

"We're happy with the way our game-plan is set-up and how we play the game, we're not going to adapt it for that.

"We feel that our fitness levels are strong enough, we know it's going to be a massive challenge against the Cheetahs because they do play at pace.

"Against Zebre last weekend they showed the tempo they can bring.

It's just about managing that, it's an opportunity for us to control the tempo and then when it's on we up the tempo and put pressure on them."

The Cheetahs beat Zebre in an eight tries to five thriller last Saturday night to record their first win in the new competition.

Leinster attracted a reasonably large contingent of curious local journalists to their media briefing today, despite their match taking place 1,000km away.

The PRO14's expansion into Super Rugby's heartland is struggling to attract fan interest, but Dempsey dismissed the small crowd in Port Elizabeth last weekend and says he believes the two newcomers will grow into the tournament.

"It's an incredible stadium, we spoke to the Kings coaches and had a good chat with them afterwards," he said.

"They've faced numerous challenges trying to get everything organised and set up in such a short space of time.

"New coaches, new squad... it didn't impact on our players at all, it was great for us to play there.

"The biggest shock was the intensity the Kings brought, we knew they'd be well up for it at home but they really went for us early on and we were our downfall in the possession we had and how they attacked our ball.

"Regarding the atmosphere, we'd no issues.

"I think they're going to gel and get better, their squad will grow and the coaches were talking about the possibility of recruiting post-Currie Cup.

"The core group of their players is very strong, they are going to get better and cause a lot of teams in the PRO14 problems at home.

"We're fortunate to come out here first, it had it's challenges but we're new to them and likewise them to us, but other teams will find as the season gets on the Cheetahs and the Kings will only get better and it will be tougher to play out here."

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