THE LEINSTER squad continued their preparations ahead of Saturday evening’s Magners League clash against the Cardiff Blues in Cardiff City Stadium (KO: 6.30pm) with a training session in University College Dublin (UCD).
Shane Horgan is continuing his rehabilitation on the knee injury this week, which was sustained in the away victory over Racing-Métro in January, and a further assessment will be made before deciding on his availability for this weekend’s game in the Welsh capital.
It is hoped that Cook Islands prop Stan Wright (Achilles) will be available for selection for the first time since August as he stepped up his second successive week of full training with the province.
Meanwhile, Shaun Berne is in contention while there is a possibility that some of the international players will be released from Ireland camp later in the week.
David Kearney’s try against the Italians last Thursday in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) was his third in six league games, while Isa Nacewa’s 11 point haul took him to 147 so far this season over 20 games in all competitions so far this season.
The victory over Aironi did come at a cost for the province, however, with Ireland Under-20 centre Brendan Macken suffering a broken collarbone on his debut which is expected to rule him out for between 6-8 weeks.
The team is expected to be named on Friday lunchtime.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game Leinster Forwards Coach JONO GIBBES said that the team will need to make a marked improvement again ahead of the trip to Cardiff.
ON IMPROVEMENTS THIS WEEK: “When you look at where we’re placed in the Magners League table now, it’s a crucial game for us and I think the squad will have a point to prove. Everyone was disappointed with the Aironi game; the positive was that we got the win but there’s plenty to work on and I’m sure we’ll be looking to up our standard this week.”
ON CARDIFF’S STRENGTHS: “They’ve certainly got a deep squad and although yes, they’ve got some guys that will be rested, you’ve still got the likes of Martyn Williams who is a massively experienced player. Xavier Rush is back from injury now and there’s Tau Filise up front. They provide them with a bit of steel, a bit of direction and a lot of leadership. So, Cardiff away is always a challenge but I think that last year looking back on our Cardiff away match, it was at the same time of year and it was a really positive experience for the players that were playing. I think that’s one of the exciting things about this time of year; the squads are affected by international duties but the guys that are there are really enthusiastic and keen to take their opportunity.”
ON YOUNG PLAYERS MAKING AN IMPRESSION: “It’s obviously disappointing for Brendan Macken who broke his collarbone which will sideline him for a little while, but there’s a good mixture of young guys and a few old heads keeping it together as well. One of the pleasing thing from our (coaches) point of view is that the guys who have come in have had a real go at it and grabbed their opportunity really.”
ON STAN WRIGHT’S IMMINENT RETURN: “Physically, he’s in great nick. He has been so disciplined in his rehab and he has done everything that he possibly could to present himself back in the best possible shape, so it’s a credit to him. Mentally, I think he’s pretty hungry. I know how excited and keen he is to get involved and I think he adds leadership, experience and a lot of enthusiasm. It will be great to have his presence back on the playing field because he’s a good character (who provides) a bit of steel for our pack.”
ON INCREASED COMPETITION FOR THE TOP FOUR SPOT: “If you look at it there are around six or seven teams who are really close for four positions. Obviously Munster are clearly at the top, but there are four teams chasing the second home semi final position. That’s a wee way off for us at the moment, but the challenge is we’ve got to keep the momentum going. We’ve got to keep accruing points at this time and that’s pretty tough especially this weekend because we’re coming up against an experienced team in Cardiff. So there are challenges there, but I think that if we can keep a degree of momentum going in this period, then hopefully, once the internationals come back in later on we’re going to be in a good position to secure a spot in the Top Four.”