Tuesday 24 April 2018

Avoiding injuries will be the main aim as focus begins to switch to Saracens

Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery at the announcement of Leinster Rugby’s 10-year naming rights partnership with Energia that will see Donnybrook Stadium renamed Energia Park
Jordan Larmour, Robbie Henshaw and Joey Carbery at the announcement of Leinster Rugby’s 10-year naming rights partnership with Energia that will see Donnybrook Stadium renamed Energia Park

Victor Costello

Under normal circumstances at the end of a Six Nations, the concern would have been the physical and mental state of the returning players as there is no doubt that there will be an injury toll and fatigue levels will be high, but winning trophies refreshes the mind.

This season the players will be returning to their provinces in a positive mental state and there will be a renewed winning mentality that will mask any other physical fallout from the international series.

With anticipation high throughout the Six Nations campaign, in the end it seemed to last longer than most.

Leinster have had a few scattered Guinness PRO14 games and fewer players to select from but a 'left-field' difficulty in this period came from the weather issues. There has not been this much disruption to training since the foot and mouth outbreak in 2001.

Positives

In Leinster's case, there were positives to take out of the recent disruption as it gave injured players time to rehab and a much needed breather for the management.

This period of away Welsh games, Scarlets and Ospreys, is vital to establishing the level at which Leinster are now at in this block of the season compared to last.

Who would have thought at this stage of the season that you would have Luke McGrath, Seán O'Brien and Rhys Ruddock available for selection?

This, coupled with an in-form Garry Ringrose, James Ryan and Dan Leavy, and one can already see the backbone of the team taking shape.

Ospreys away will always prove difficult but there is opportunity in selection for those who play as Leo Cullen and his management will have to box clever with their combinations for the next two games.

Getting a win with no injuries is the priority this weekend. Leinster must know their best 15 for the quarter-final but also manage the selection process between now and then to make sure that best 15 are available to be selected.

Saracens, of course, have their own problems. Losing away to Exeter recently proves that Leinster's back-to-back victories against Exeter will be a great confidence boost when going up against any of the Premiership giants in the play-offs.

As much as the Six Nations win will benefit Leinster, the opposite will be said of Saracens.

Many of their players will enjoy being back at club level but the prospect of playing against an Irish side in Dublin will have both mental and physical implications.

The only worry for Leinster in this game will be the possible return of Billy Vunipola - without him Saracens are rudderless and cannot activate their wide game-plan with no go-forward ball.

While Leinster aren't as reliant on any one player, their injury problems in the recent PRO14 campaign have staggered their dominance.

For all that, it is hard to think of a club in better shape to progress in Europe.

As the dust settles, expectations remain as high if not higher since their unbeaten run in the pool stages. Irish rugby seems invincible at the moment and rightly so.

From the Leinster players' point of view, they will be hungry to get back in to regular-season games.

It's been a long time waiting and preparing for this Saracens game and for the first time in history one would almost wish to forgo the Ospreys game and head straight into that Sarries game.

Still, we can take a deep breath and get ready for some great performances ahead. Ospreys should be a guaranteed victory for Leinster and European preparation week will start come Monday.

Let's not forget the last few months has been frustrating for Leinster. The pro14 has been stop-start and the player drain, coupled with game cancellations, has not gone to script.

Nevertheless, it has come a full circle for all at Leinster and I'm sure there was a wry smile on Stuart Lancaster's face last weekend.

Under his tenure as head coach of England he beat the best teams in the world - England's loss, Leinster's gain.

Irish Independent

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