Wednesday 24 January 2018

Star duo to soften Nacewa blow for Leinster

Leo Cullen lifts team-mate Brian O'Driscoll during Leinster rugby squad training yesterday
Leo Cullen lifts team-mate Brian O'Driscoll during Leinster rugby squad training yesterday

Hugh Farrelly

FOR Leinster coach Michael Cheika, the rugby gods giveth and they taketh away.

Into his squad for Sunday's Magners League showdown with Munster come the stellar southern hemisphere names of Rocky Elsom and CJ van der Linde and absent for the first time this season is another southern hemisphere star, and arguably Leinster's form player in their three league matches to date, Isa Nacewa.

The New Zealander broke his arm in last Friday's victory over the Ospreys and is not expected to return until the end of November.

Nacewa's two injury-time drop goals did much to secure the win and, remarkably, the out-half played on after sustaining the break, to the point where he tried to bring down Nikki Walker as the Ospreys winger went over for the final try.

"I think he did it just before the second drop goal, so he probably played that last five or six minutes with it," said Cheika yesterday.

"I don't think he was aware of it. Even when he was walking off the field he was just holding his arm and he said to me: 'You know, I think I've broken my arm.'

"Whether it was the adrenalin that kept him going I don't know but that last tackle wouldn't have helped him because it was right in that area."

Nacewa's injury creates a vacancy at out-half, where Cheika faces a choice between Jonathan Sexton and Felipe Contepomi.

Cheika replaced Sexton with Nacewa after just half an hour of the previous win over Edinburgh (although the youngster had taken a heavy blow to the neck) but Contepomi and Brian O'Driscoll have been going well in midfield and the coach may be reluctant to break up that partnership.

Tempted

However, the Australian also hinted that he may be tempted to move Luke Fitzgerald into the middle, which would free up Contepomi for a switch to 10.

"We would have liked to have got Luke (Fitzgerald) a game in the centre before now but situations have conspired not to let that happen," said Cheika. "We'll have a look at it in training."

Girvan Dempsey has been playing superbly at full-back, keeping Rob Kearney on the wing as a result. One cannot blame Cheika for trying to make the best use of his resources but, from an Ireland point of view, it is frustrating to see Kearney kept out of his best position and, as Cheika revealed yesterday, frustrating for the player himself. So, any chance of Kearney wearing 15 on Sunday?

"He always has a chance to start at full-back. Rob is a quality player and I think it's a testament to the way Girvan Demspey is playing. Rob's obviously working hard to get that full-back position but it's about the back three in total and combinations," said Cheika.

While Nacewa's injury is a blow, Cheika's satisfaction at having Elsom and Van der Linde on board was palpable yesterday.

"They're quality players. Rocky's a power player, a power runner, good lineout operator and good defender. CJ's an excellent scrummager and a very dynamic player," he said.

"Whether they're ready for 80 minutes is another thing but from what I've seen of the two of them so far, they're both very keen to be involved."

Cheika will need all the quality he can lay his hands on when the table-topping European champions come to town, something he readily acknowledges.

"Their coach has been very clever in the way he has used his squad, I've been pretty impressed by what he has done," said Cheika of Tony McGahan.

"Munster are an improving team, they have a lot more clarity about how they want to play their wide game and they do it well because they have got some great finishers. (Doug) Howlett has been in excellent form, trailing behind the back and in his work off the ball. They've returned 14 from 15 points so that pretty much says it all."

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