Sunday 19 November 2017

Nacewa the biggest casualty following Leinster's tumultuous tour of duty

Isa Nacewa. Photo: PA
Isa Nacewa. Photo: PA

Ruadhri O'Connor

Leinster bid farewell to South Africa last night and after a tumultuous fortnight that ended in a humbling defeat in Bloemfontein on Friday, they'll be glad of the long gap before they have to return.

Not that they didn't enjoy themselves over the course of their four-city sojourn, they did, but a combination of self-inflicted PR gaffes and a defeat took something of the gloss from the tour.

Stuart Lancaster returned to Dublin midway through last week to prepare the players who had remained behind for this Friday's RDS fixture against Edinburgh, the fixture that marks the pivoting of the season towards the serious business.

After four games, the player management system is likely to release the first of the Lions this week, while new father Devin Toner and the patiently waiting Scott Fardy will also bolster a squad that found themselves overpowered on Friday.

The first of the returning players - the short-notice meant they had to spread the squad across three different planes - will link up with them on Monday to step up the preparations, and back at sea level and on home soil they will hope to leave their under-performance against the Cheetahs behind them.

The biggest casualty of the tour was Isa Nacewa, who took 10 flights in 12 days and got 15 minutes of rugby and a calf injury for his reward. The captain is definitely out of Friday's game and it appears he will struggle to be fit for the derby against Munster on Saturday week.

Ulster await a week later in Belfast before Europe arrives and so Leo Cullen moves into phase two of the campaign with his internationals on board and much to ponder after conceding five tries in a match for the first time since the Scarlets did it to them last November.

"Stuart left and did a session with some of the guys on Thursday and Friday, because we know the preparations are short for next week and we need to get those guys up and running again," Cullen said. "We'll try and get guys back (from South Africa) in as best shape as possible and we'll start to plan ahead."

Cullen is promising an "extensive review" of the province's trip, taking in the on-field work and the off-field mistakes that led to Nacewa and Jamison Gibson-Park being turned away at immigration and Cian Healy being asked to leave an internal flight last week.

"There's definitely things we could have done better, it was a really good learning exercise for us as a group, staff and players. We'll look back and see what we can do better next time. We got a lot of things right about the trip, but we can always do things better and we'll assess and make a plan for next time we're here. A huge amount of planning went into the trip and for the most part it worked pretty well."

On the pitch, they'll reflect on the fact they were overpowered in the contact zone by a Cheetahs team who finally showed that they can be a positive addition to the division.

Although the crowd of almost 7,000 leaves room for improvement, the proposition of the Toyota Stadium becoming an intimidating away venue is one the competition could do with - especially given the Southern Kings' struggles.

Fifteen points from a possible 20 is not a bad return from the first four games, but the performances have yet to hit the kind of level Leinster expect of themselves and they'll need the likes of Robbie Henshaw and Jack McGrath to lift the standard at UCD this week.

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