Heaslip ready to lead by example
LEINSTER will give Jonathan Sexton every chance to play in tomorrow's Magners League showdown with Munster at Lansdowne Road by postponing a decision on his availability until after today's captain's run.
The international out-half has yet to play this season and was a late withdrawal on the two occasions he was named in the starting line-up because of a troublesome quad muscle injury.
Coach Joe Schmidt is wary of the disruptive effects of another late withdrawal, thus naming Sexton alongside Isa Nacewa as a possible starter at No 10.
"We just don't want to commit ourselves to Jonny starting as we did before Cardiff and then unbalance the team just prior to kick-off," said Schmidt.
"So, we want him to get through the captain's run before we confirm whether or not he is fit to start. He did come through training today though and we are hopeful that he will be as close to 100pc as we can have him."
Schmidt named a strong selection yesterday which, encouragingly for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, includes 13 players eligible to play for Ireland -- if Sexton starts.
Second-row Nathan Hines, the Australian-born Scotland international, and South African hooker Richard Strauss are the only non-Irish qualified players and for the likes of Mike Ross at prop, second-row Devin Toner, flankers Dominic Ryan and Sean O'Brien and scrum-half Isaac Boss, tomorrow's clash represents a tremendous opportunity to advance their international aspirations.
Ryan starts at blind-side as Shane Jennings is given a week off to recover from a couple of knocks with next weekend's Heineken Cup opener against Racing Metro in mind, with hooker John Fogarty also unavailable.
Jennings has been captaining the side in the absence of Leo Cullen and with flanker rested, Schmidt has handed the leadership duties to Jamie Heaslip.
It is an exciting move by the New Zealander and a sign of things to come as Heaslip looks like the perfect candidate to succeed Brian O'Driscoll as Ireland captain when the centre decides to step down.
Last month, Heaslip revealed that he hadn't captained before except "maybe a couple of times in Newbridge College" and that it would be his dream to captain his country one day.
O'Driscoll certainly believes Heaslip has the right qualities to take on the Ireland role in due course.
"Jamie is a big character within our squad, he's comfortably been our best player for the past number of seasons and definitely someone that we look to," said O'Driscoll yesterday.
"He probably won't shout about it, but he'll want to be Ireland captain some day. I've always been a huge believer that it's not what you say, it's what you do and he definitely is the sort of guy you want to get behind."
Tomorrow is a chance for established stars like O'Driscoll, Gordon D'Arcy, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald to get Leinster's season back on track and Schmidt spoke to his predecessor Michael Cheika last week to get his experiences of the Munster-Leinster derby.
"I've been told about the intensity," said Schmidt. "I did speak to Michael Cheika about it as well, just because he was in my position five years ago, and just to be a little bit more aware of it myself.
"It is an easy week for a coach to a degree. For the players, Saturday can't come soon enough. They're very keen to get started, I know Munster are in the same frame of mind."
LEINSTER -- R Kearney; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton/I Nacewa, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; N Hines, D Toner; D Ryan, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt). Reps: J Harris-Wright, H van der Merwe, S Shawe, M Galarza, R Ruddock, E Reddan, I Nacewa/I Madigan, F McFadden.