Sport Rugby

Sunday 18 August 2019

Leinster looking to rise above scrapes

James Tracy and Joey Carbery arriving for Leinster’s training session at Bishop’s College in Cape Town yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
James Tracy and Joey Carbery arriving for Leinster’s training session at Bishop’s College in Cape Town yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Cape Town

There hasn't been a dull moment since the Irish province landed in Johannesburg last Wednesday and found that their New Zealanders could not enter South Africa and yesterday's news that Cian Healy was asked to leave their flight from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town for using his laptop when the use of electronics had been forbidden continued the bizarre backdrop.

The Ireland prop apologised and was subsequently booked on to a later flight with the same airline and remains in contention to play for the province against the Cheetahs on Friday night where they are expected to continue their unbeaten start to the season.

Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Sportsfile
Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Sportsfile

On the pitch, things are going swimmingly and off it the players appeared to be enjoying themselves as they trained beneath Table Mountain at the Bishop's College school in Cape Town.

With the sun on their backs, the players were put through their paces by Leo Cullen and his coaching team with Isa Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park in tow having cleared immigration.


If it weren't for the off-field scrapes, things would be going swimmingly for the first Irish province to play a pair of Guinness PRO14 fixtures here and the squad appear to be largely insulated from the incidents.

1,000km from Friday night's match venue, Cape Town has nothing to do with the PRO14 but Leinster's press conference at their team hotel did attract significant media interest.

The paltry attendance at Saturday's game in Port Elizabeth has been a major talking point in both hemispheres as the PRO14 makes its tentative first steps in a new market.

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With one South African win - the Cheetahs' eight tries-to-five victory over Zebre on Saturday - in six games since coming into the competition, the first impression of this new relationship has not been great.

Despite a decent Kings challenge in the first half on Saturday and a stellar cast of big names being left in Dublin, the Irish province were far too strong after half-time and collected the bonus-point win with relative ease.

Despite their early struggles, Leinster assistant coach Girvan Dempsey believes the Kings 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 its 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."

Friday's game takes place in Bloemfontein on the South African Highveld, 1,400 metres above sea level.

Dempsey played in the city for Ireland in 2004 and doesn't believe it will be too much of a factor.

"We're fortunate to have a very strong backroom team with a huge wealth and depth of knowledge in sports science," he said.

"I think that was one of the things about getting to train in Jo'burg first, to train there and get the opportunity to get used to it.

"You do feel it, it's catching your breath and in terms of fitness levels during the game.

"We've worked really hard training back in Dublin, with the intensity with which we train, and then coming here to experience that was huge.

"We trained at about 28 degrees when we were in Jo'burg, hopefully it's not going to be like that in Bloemfontein - at an 8.0pm kick-off it's going to be a lot lower - but I don't think altitude is going to be as big a factor.

"There will be an initial shock, but once you adapt to that you're on to your fitness reserves and we feel that's a strength.

"Against Zebre last weekend, the Cheetahs 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."

Nacewa and Gibson-Park are in contention for the Toyota Park clash, but James Ryan and Fergus McFadden are unlikely to be available.

Second-row Ryan is awaiting results of a scan on his foot, while McFadden is struggling with a hamstring problem and both sat out training yesterday.

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