Scarlets opener a tad early for Blues
Coach Joe Schmidt is still experimenting ahead of RaboDirect opener at Scarlets, writes GERRY THORNLEY
BEING THE bulk suppliers to the Ireland team, it stands to reason Leinster are the hardest hit of the dozen protagonists who set out on the 2012-13 RaboDirect Pro 12 League campaign this coming weekend. The European champions haven’t won their opening league game for five seasons and little about the preamble to this Saturday’s trek to the Scarlets will have their supporters stampeding to the bookies to back them.
In addition to the 12 players who toured New Zealand (one of whom, Seán O’Brien, will not be back until November), another four are still recovering from surgery and will be sidelined until well into the season, namely Luke Fitzgerald (December/January), Eoin O’Malley (late October), Dave Kearney (late October) and Rhys Ruddock (mid-to-late October).
Their summer tourists rejoin squad training today after completing their pre-seasons and as all bar three started two or three Tests, according to Joe Schmidt “the vast majority of them” are not liable to be available again until rounds three or four of the Pro 12, away to Treviso or Edinburgh at home, and will thus miss Saturday’s opener and the first home game against the Dragons.
Those with a lighter load in New Zealand, such as Seán Cronin and Eoin Reddan (who were confined to appearances off the bench) and Gordon D’Arcy (who started the second Test) may return next week. Otherwise, Leinster are set to start their league campaign with the core of the callow squad which completed three pre-season friendlies with a 10-all draw away to Sale last Friday after beating Gloucester (33-22) and losing to Northampton (43-0).
Schmidt and his squad are “excited” about a new competitive season.
“While you get an indication during the pre-season games as to where you are at, the harsh reality doesn’t strike until that first game. Unfortunately that harsh reality has been in the negative for us in the last two seasons,” he said in reference to the last two opening defeats, away to the Ospreys (27-3) and Glasgow (22-19). Leinster also lost at home to Glasgow in round three last year and away to Treviso and Edinburgh in rounds three and four two years ago.
“We would like to start positively. Obviously that’s going to be difficult against a Scarlets side that have recruited really well,” said Schmidt. “They’ve strengthened their tight five, they have super loose forwards I really like (Josh) Turnbull, (Rob) McCusker and (Kieran) Murphy, they’ve some of their top quality backs back in. It’s exciting, because of the quality of the opposition and it is a massive opportunity for some of the younger players.”
Come round four, Schmidt is also mindful of not reintroducing nine or 10 front-liners simultaneously. His options have been limited by the absence of four back-rowers and four centres, prompting Schmidt to play Ireland Under-20 backrower Jordan Coghlan at inside centre in the last two games.
“I wouldn’t say it was an instant success but there was enough promise not to be considered a failure either,” said Schmidt. “He’s a good athlete, he’s a good young kid and he has been flexible about having a try in the midfield as opposed to playing in the backrow.”