Selection posers aplenty for Leinster boss Matt O'Connor
Decisions must be made on Eoin Reddan and Mike McCarthy, and between Madigan and Gopperth at 10
Rated as doubtful earlier in the week, Mike McCarthy could yet feature for Leinster against Ulster in their RaboDirect Pro12 semi-final. Photograph:Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Whereas Ulster are expected to be strengthened by the return of Ruan Pienaar and Rory Best, Leinster’s hand has been weakened by the loss of Richardt Strauss and perhaps Mike McCarthy, while Matt O’Connor yesterday admitted he had been faced with a few tricky selection posers before tomorrow’s Pro12 semi-final.
Characteristically, according to O’Connor, everyone is fine save for the hamstrung Strauss, who underwent surgery on Monday, while Luke Fitzgerald is still sidelined with his ongoing groin problem.
However, when pushed on Mike McCarthy, who earlier this week was described as “unlikely to play”, O’Connor said:
“He’s done enough, we’ll have to wait and see. We’re not going to risk anyone, the game is too important and the stakes are too high.”
Presumably Eoin Reddan, whose rate of recovery was described as “slow but steady” on Tuesday, falls into that category, as might Seán O’Brien after his first game in five months against Edinburgh.
With Marty Moore now emerging as a serious rival to Mike Ross, doubts about McCarthy’s well-being and Leo Cullen’s readiness to play 80 or at any rate an hour, it could be Quinn Roux comes back into the equation as partner to Devin Toner, with Rhys Ruddock, Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings to make up the backrow as they did in Ravenhill a fortnight ago. O’Brien’s return could see Jordi Murphy edged out from the bench.
It would be a surprise if Reddan was deemed fit to start, while O’Connor’s major conundrum again will be whether to go with Ian Madigan, who had a mixed bag in Ravenhill, or Jimmy Gopperth, whose lack of rugby hasn’t helped as he tries to recapture his form of the first half of the season.
Fergus McFadden’s return from injury also further intensifies the competition out wide.
“There are a couple of issues in and around who should play and who shouldn’t play,” admitted O’Connor, adding: “obviously the nine and the 10, and there’s selection issues too in the backrow. We’re pretty comfortable with where we’re at in relation to the bodies that are fit and we’ve got a pretty good panel to pick from.”
Leinster are under a different form of pressure to Ulster to win some silverware this season, with the heat on O’Connor himself in his first season at the helm of the serial winners.
“The heaviness is about the fact it’s a semi-final,” he maintained. “The guys have worked hard all year to get to this point.
“The stakes are high and they know you don’t get another chance if you get it wrong. With that goes an element of pressure.
“The fact we’re at home and there’s the emotional attachment around Leo and Brian, is a motivator as opposed to a pressurised situation for us. The guys are really excited about going out there on Saturday night in front of their home fans.”
There have been grumblings from supporters and hints of dissatisfaction from former players about Leinster’s style of play this season, specifically the handling and execution of their backs as well as the conservatism of the tactics.
“That’s what you sign on for. There’s no point talking about it. I’ve been in the Leicester environment for five years, I was at the Brumbies before that, and that’s why you coach because you want to be at this stage where the stakes are so high and everything matters.”
When pushed, he smiled broadly and said he was enjoying life after nine months in Dublin. “It’s a great environment. The guys work really, really hard to be as good as they can be. There are very few issues off the field in relation to keeping blokes in line with what we’re trying to achieve on the park.”
“From that end, it gives you maximum time to make them better at playing the game which is, ultimately, what I want to do, which is, ultimately, what they want to do. From that end, it is a brilliant environment. Dublin is a brilliant city. It’s a good spot to be.”
All that said and done, O’Connor admitted their execution has not been what he would have liked, especially two weeks ago. O’Connor also could not recall one night when he came away from a game perfectly pleased with what his team had produced.
“But it’s not a bad position when you’re top of the league and you’ve still got a load of things to improve. It’s about what happens from tomorrow on. It’s not about what happened historically.
“We need to make sure that Saturday night is about getting the result. How it happens and what it looks like is largely irrelevant. We’ve got to make sure that we get the result.”