Schmidt not taking Edinburgh lightly
Rugby:Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has no doubts over the size of the task facing his side in Edinburgh on Friday night but he is confident they remain well placed for a top-four finish in the PRO12.
Leinster (sixth) have won their last four encounters with Edinburgh (12th), and have won on three of their last four visits to Murrayfield, but traditionally it has been a tough venue for the European champions. Despite ending a three-game losing streak with a 17-0 win over Connacht on Saturday, Schmidt is taking nothing for granted.
"We know from experience how difficult it is to win over in Edinburgh,” said the Kiwi. “A lot of our players have played under Michael (Bradley) at different levels for Connacht, the Wolfhounds or with the Ireland senior squad when he took interim charge a few years back - and all speak highly of him.
"Edinburgh will be keen to get back to winning ways after their narrow defeats to Glasgow over the Christmas period and they showed real character to come back and almost snatch the win last weekend after Glasgow got away to a flying start.
"Games between ourselves and Edinburgh are always tight affairs. We narrowly beat them earlier in the campaign in the RDS (22-16) and it was nip-and-tuck last season over in Murrayfield when we managed to come out on the right side of a contest that see-sawed right up until the finish (28-36).
"They have a big abrasive set of forwards and proven international performers throughout. With a player like Tim Visser in their ranks, who is racing clear at the top of the try-scoring charts again this year, we can't afford any defensive lapses. Greig Laidlaw controls the game for them at either scrum-half or outhalf and they have a number of very effective ball carriers led by the likes of Dave Denton and Netani Talei.”
The new year continues to look good for Leinster on the injury front as Schmidt continues to welcome back some of his most experienced senior players ahead of the vital final two rounds of the Heineken Cup pool stages.The Leinster squad trained in UCD yesterday afternoon, with a number of internationals expected to return to the fray. Schmidt is hopeful that long-term absentees Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald will be in contention as they make positive strides in their respective rehabilitation programmes.
International hooker Richardt Strauss is expected to return to the fray over the coming weeks and Shane Jennings, who was a late withdrawal from Saturday’s victory over Connacht due to illness, is expected to return.
"With a short six-day turnaround, the focus in the early part of this week is about nursing knocks and reintegrating players back into the group as a number of players haven't had much game time in recent weeks,” said Schmidt. "It can be easy to allow your mind to drift because January is shaping up to be a big month for us in the context of the season across both competitions, but we're very much focused on Edinburgh and what is sure to be another stiff test this weekend."
Andrew Conway received a dead leg when competing for a ball in the air on Saturday but is expected be fit to train during the week. Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Seán O'Brien and Jonathan Sexton may return after being unavailable last weekend, while Kevin McLaughlin is expected to be involved after recovering from a shoulder knock against Ulster the previous weekend.
Isa Nacewa is also set to return either this week or next after suffering deep tissue bruising to his arm in the recent Heineken Cup clash against Clermont Auvergne at the Aviva Stadium.
It’s all timely good news for Leinster. Sitting just outside the top four of the PRO12 and needing 10 points from their final two pool games in the Heineken Cup to have any hope of the knockout stages, they were in need of a momentum changer.
Perhaps the win over Connacht may have been just that.
"I was pleased with the effort from what was a relatively young and inexperienced group of players. We defended well playing into the strong breeze in the first half as Connacht put a lot of pressure on us. It was a great confidence boost to get seven points just before the interval and we put together some positive phases in the last quarter of the game to build a bit of a buffer on the scoreboard.
"Despite the cold wind, the crowd helped spur the players on as always and it was great to be back at the RDS with the really positive support we receive there. With other teams in the top half winning this weekend we didn't lose any ground at least, so we're still just outside the play off qualification spots. It means we've still got plenty of work to do but at least we're close enough to be in the scramble for the semi-finals.”