Leinster to bring their old intensity levels
Shift work for Leinster may be the only way they can weather the harsh conditions in Clermont. Although Joe Schmidt has covered the creaky parts of his team by successfully emptying sick bay, the Leinster coach will go to France with a bench that will have to fire as much as the starting team.
Seán O’Brien has had a game and a half since he came back from his hip operation. Others, like Rhys Ruddock and Isa Nacewa, have had spells on the sidelines. Schmidt has been experimenting with Gordon D’Arcy at 13 and brought in Michael Bent just last week for his debut shove with the Leinster pack.
The former Clermont man is cooking up a Leinster squad he knows cannot wilt. O’Brien, most of all, will not be expected to face the French international backrow for 80 unforgiving minutes.
“It’s not a lot of game time but he’s put in a massive amount of work to come back from his injury,” said Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes.
“They’ve managed his workload really well, the trainers, they’re confident that he’s in good nick. He’s got a good engine and he’s got a big heart, so they are two massive attributes you need. I think he’s building back into it.
“It’s a game and a half so it’s too soon for him to be right there, but I think he’s building positively anyway. He’s a positive guy anyway – just his sheer presence at training, he lifts people and he’s a robust carrier, so physically, there’s some real positives. But as a guy he’s good to have around the squad on the training ground and when you go into battle.”
Battle is the word that appears to characterise the meeting. The expected communion of a physical challenge and a smaller Leinster pack with less international depth seems to galvanise the squad and make imperatives simple. It’s not hard this week to stay on message given the last Heineken Cup meeting in Bordeaux’s Stade Chaban-Delmas, which turned on Wesley Fofana touching down on his bicep at the fag end of the game and not the ground.
“I think collision-winning obviously is a challenge, they’ve got bigger guys physically,” says Gibbes. “Figuratively, the size of the challenge is their pride and their home record, perhaps based on how their campaign finished last year. Then there’s their familiarity with us, including last year. And then you’ve the field conditions. It can get quite heavy, that field and you can get into some real trench warfare.”
The question for Leinster is whether, with their patchwork season and their frenetic pace at bringing players through because of necessity, they can bring the intensity that has won them two championships in three years. They have no serious injuries after last weekend, although Dave Kearney and Eoin O’Malley have had “a slow start” to the week. “Absolutely, yep. I have no doubt,” said Gibbes about the team’s ability to match Clermont everywhere. “We’re not going in there naively. We know what it’s going to be like. We’ve good experience from players who have been there a couple of years ago. We have guys who were there in the semi-final against them last year. We have Joe’s knowledge of them. We’ve played these guys a few times and we know what we’re going to get. I think our preparation has to reflect that and I’m sure it will.”