Kearney the latest casualty
RUGBY/HEINEKEN CUP SEMI-FINAL MUNSTER v LEINSTER:AND THEN there were 10. Of the dozen-strong Lions contingent from Leinster and Munster who were due to lock horns in their Heineken Cup semi-final, the desperately unfortunate Tomas O’Leary has already been ruled out for the season and while Rob Kearney’s case of mumps won’t deny him the chance to tour South Africa, it has also made him hors de combat for the Croke Park set-to.
The Irish fullback is the most notable absentee from Leinster’s 25-man squad announced yesterday, in which CJ van der Linde, Trevor Hogan and Simon Keogh were added to the 22 who were on duty for their 36-13 win over Glasgow on Saturday evening.
“He’s improving,” said Leinster coach Michael Cheika of Kearney, “but even if he was to get himself out and ready to go he’s had no training behind him for the last 10 days or so, so we wouldn’t even consider it.”
Kearney has literally been in quarantine for the last week and a half. “I talked to him today from a really long distance,” added Cheika, smiling, “and he was in good spirits too. He’s feeling good so our priority is for him to become healthy again and get him back on the field as soon as we can.”
As the incumbent Irish fullback coming off a fine Six Nations campaign and the additional confidence that came with his Lions’ selection, Cheika said “at times like that, when you lose a player of that quality, you are happy with the squad of players we have.”
Almost certainly Girvan Dempsey’s experience will be brought to bear from the kick-off, with Cheika’s main selection concern perhaps being whether to recall Shane Horgan or not.
The Irish winger has not been his ebullient self of late, and looks like he would benefit from erasing this season and gearing himself up for a new campaign, but he may have been refreshed by his recent, occasional omission from the starting line-up. Horgan not only impressed Cheika on Saturday when appearing off the bench but would bring a certain experience, leadership and Irish savvy to bear for a match-up that took many of Leinster’s foreign brigade by surprise three years ago.
Leinster have been sending scans of van der Linde’s toe all over the world and think they may have a solution to his recurring problem. Indeed, Cheika sounds quite optimistic about the chances of the Springbok tighthead playing on Saturday, though clearly is going to work him very hard in training to avoid a repeat of him hobbling off after 18 minutes, as happened in his last two outings against Wasps at Twickenham in January, or seven minutes, as against Ulster at home over four weeks ago.
“CJ’s been back in training today and tomorrow he’ll undergo his full test as how capable he is of playing, but we’d be confident that he’ll get past that and if he does then we’ll have to see how he’ll fit into the squad and in what capacity.”
Other, possibly pressing issues for Cheika are choosing between Malcolm O’Kelly and Devin Toner at lock, Shane Jennings or Sean O’Brien, who isn’t so much knocking on doors as hammering at them, at openside and Felipe Contepomi or Jonathan Sexton at outhalf. Like the call at right-wing, it would be no surprise if in all instances he went with the more experienced option.
“We’ve had a pretty consistent feeling about our 22. We’ve tried to use our bench in different circumstances to a certain effect, but we do know what our starting XV is going to be. Obviously we’re not going to announce it now because there’s still a few days to go as far as our preparation is concerned. We also know that for a game of this type all 22 players, or a good part of them, will make a big contribution to the team.”
As for, perhaps, the ultimate challenge of playing the European champions, Cheika admitted: “they’ve been pretty untouchable this year, haven’t they? They’ve been quite commanding in the pool stages, they’re doing well in the league obviously and we understand that not many people expect us to beat them, but it’s all about us believing in ourselves and our supporters, and making sure we give it our best on the day.”
Of better news, albeit from next season onwards, was confirmation that Eoin Reddan has joined from Wasps after he was released from the last year of his contract by the London club and the former Munster scrumhalf has has signed for threee years.
“It’s obviously a big asset for us – someone of his experience – and also coming from a club with a big culture like Wasps and I think the length of the deal he has signed has also signified the intent of the player and we’re very, very happy to have him on board for next season.”
LEINSTER SQUAD: Forwards: Cian Healy, Stan Wright, Ronan McCormack, CJ van der Linde, Bernard Jackman, John Fogarty, Devin Toner, Leo Cullen, Malcolm O’Kelly, Trevor Hogan, Sean O’Brien, Rocky Elsom, Shane Jennings, Jamie Heaslip. Backs: Chris Whitaker, Simon Keogh, Chris Keane, Felipe Contepomi, Jonathan Sexton, Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald, Shane Horgan, Isa Nacewa, Girvan Dempsey.