Wednesday 13 December 2017

Player Diary: Down numbers but excited by the challenge

Great news for Rhys and Mike, but for those of us left in Leinster, it is about steeling ourselves for next big test

Isa Nacewa
Isa Nacewa
Isa Nacewa arriving for the game against Newport Gwent Dragons last week in which he scored a try
Isa Nacewa scored a try in the game against Newport Gwent Dragons

Isa Nacewa

So here it is. The block of games that we have all been looking forward to and probably dreading in equal measure! The stop-start nature of the season until now has been far from ideal and the same can be said of 16 weeks in a row. Far from ideal but as we stand on the verge of that first game against the Scarlets, as a group we can't wait.

With another Rugby World Cup down week, there were plenty of chances to impress in the gym and on the paddock but also away from HQ.

Some of the lads had a tough hit-out for the Leinster 'A' team against Munster which was another chance for the young guys to impress Leo and the coaches. I think looking on they will be delighted with how they started and how they capitalised on the opportunities that were created but obviously from being in a commanding position they should have closed the game out.

That is what is great about those games. Great opportunity for guys to learn more and to play in a competitive environment because regardless of how well training goes, there is no substitute for game-time.

Unfortunately, there were a few bangs and bruises with the likes of Billy Dardis and Royce Burke-Flynn picking up knocks but again that is part and parcel of these games and thankfully the injuries were not too serious. However, the same cannot be said for Mick Kearney whose luck deserted him as he injured his toe again playing for Clontarf and looks as if he will be on the sidelines until the new year.

Mick has applied himself brilliantly here and was taking part in sessions and really adding to the mix. He is an imposing presence and it was great to have his freshness and his enthusiasm around.

He's in good company with Ed Byrne also out for a period so they will keep each other motivated. As we all will. It is great to see injured lads making progress and over the next few weeks and months we'll support them as best we can and look forward to getting them back involved again.

Speaking of injuries... an injury-ravaged Ireland team and Joe Schmidt will have kept a close eye on our last game against Dragons to spot the in-form players and for me it is no surprise to see who he has called up.

As a result, Mike McCarthy and Rhys Ruddock have earned the call-up to the Ireland squad. It's been an amazing turnaround for Rhys. What an absolute professional he has been over the whole of the summer. To see his arm break again for the second time in 12 months, his Rugby World Cup dreams disappear, and yet to get his head right and to get in top shape for the opportunity to make an impression if called upon.

I think Rhys has spoken recently about the work he does with the online youth mental health charity and I am sure that played a part in how mentally strong he has been through all of his injury ups and downs.

Sure there was a stroke of good fortune in him playing the full 80 minutes having been selected to start from the bench but as soon as Jack Conan rolled his ankle we knew we were in good hands.

To play 80 minutes of faultless rugby in the Guinness Pro12, and be called up to the national team is a credit to all the hard work he has put in. We are all delighted for him.

For the rest of us back here in the Leinster we have one thing on our minds and that is Scarlets away. They are top of the table and are the in-form team in the Pro12 so far. They have one of the most exciting backlines in Regan King, DTH van der Merwe and Hadleigh Parkes. So it's going to be our biggest test so far. We went there last season and lost and they actually only lost once at home all season so we need to bring a top performance.

On a happy note, we welcome Hayden Triggs and his family into the Leinster family. His experience is going to be a massive addition to our squad, especially now that 'Dad' - or Mike McCarthy! - has joined the Irish set-up. The sooner he gets over his jet lag and he gets involved the better.

Parc y Scarlets here we come!

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