| 2.2°C Dublin

Ryan reveals the heat is on to claim top spot in league

JOE SCHMIDT's capacity to leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of victory has been on display in UCD this week as his Leinster players have turned up the heat ahead of their trip to Italy.

The New Zealander is renowned for his attention to detail and he and his staff have devised a routine to get the squad ready for the increased temperature awaiting them on and off the pitch in Regio Emilia on Sunday, when they face Zebre, who have moved their game to raise funds for victims of last year's earthquake in the region.

It is not the larger than usual crowd that will be in the 20,000-capacity Stadio Citta del Tricolore that is worrying Leinster, but the heat off the pitch that Schmidt and his team have been concerned about and they have put in place a plan to be well used to the temperatures by the weekend.

It was 26C in the town yesterday and although it is expected to cool slightly over the weekend, with rain forecast, the visitors are leaving little to chance in their bid to claim top spot in the Pro12, as flanker Dominic Ryan revealed.

"I've played over there before and one of the things about it is that it is quite hot over there," he recalled. "So this week, the lads have been coming in early in the morning, at 6.0 or 7.0, to the gym and we pump all the heaters on, not opening the windows so that we can get used to the 25C heat.

"From a scientific point of view you have to get your body ready for the increased temperature. I know when we went over there two years ago, it was 26C and it really hit us hard and we struggled, winning 17-11 in a tight game.

"A lot of the lads suffered from dehydration that day, so we're trying to get used to it by hydrating early in the morning, doing urine tests to check hydration before and after sessions and things like that.

"We do it before a lot of the Italian and particularly French games. The strength and conditioning staff are very professional and thorough like that."

There has plenty of talk of an end of an era at Leinster this week, with Schmidt contemplating the Ireland job and Isa Nacewa and Jonny Sexton nearing the exit door as question marks remain over Brian O'Driscoll's future.

However, Ryan, who has had to patiently bide his time for first-team appearances despite some barnstorming displays in the back-row, believes that it is time for him and his peers to lead Leinster.

"You could look at it as the end of an era or the start of a new one. There are a lot of big guys leaving, a lot of influential characters but I think it is possibly a good time in terms of Leinster rugby," he said.

"If it happened two years ago then it might have been a lot different – a lot of the younger guys now have had good experience.

"There are a lot of guys who are 20, 21, 22 with caps under their belt, with experience because Joe has been pushing the youth for the last few years. I think it's exciting."

Ryan (above) has struggled with a succession of injuries this season, but refutes the notion that he is injury prone as he looks to break into the side in the coming weeks and stake a claim for one of Ireland's summer tour spots.

"The tricky thing is getting a run in the team," he admitted. "I've been unlucky, people may say I'm injury prone but I don't feel that, nor do the conditioning staff.

"I got a good run of games during the Six Nations, but at the end of the Glasgow game I got an unfortunate tear in my calf and I've been out for a few games.

"Hopefully, this weekend will be a good opportunity for me to get out there and put myself in the shop window for the next couple of weeks."

Irish Independent