Schmidt has to sift through the wreckage
RUGBY:THERE WAS a bit of hope, a large dollop of science and some prayers doing the rounds in the Leinster camp yesterday.
Following Joe Schmidt’s Leinster team physically falling apart in front of his eyes at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday night against Munster, the glorious powers of recovery of the human body offered a glimmer of hope yesterday.
But just who is going to turn out on Saturday against Exeter Chiefs in the first round of the Heineken Cup is out of the coach’s hands.
These things have a way of resolving themselves as the week rolls on and certainly the tanned Rob Kearney looked a picture of health at their training ground at UCD yesterday but does that mean his back is good to go?
Officially the word was Kearney is recovering well and will return this week or for the round two trip to Llanelli.
Kevin McLaughlin hyper-extended his arm the last day and is “hopeful”. Fellow backrowers Seán O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan are all sidelined.
Isa Nacewa suffered a haematoma and “should be okay”.
Brian O’Driscoll rolled his ankle and will be available for selection.
Andrew Conway’s stinger will be “monitored”, while Ireland quartet Isaac Boss (arm), skipper Leo Cullen (arm), Gordon D’Arcy (rib) and Cian Healy (bicep) “are likely” to make their returns.
Saturday’s game may, however, come a week too soon for Quinn Roux (shoulder).
Whatever permutations Schmidt can come up with from the players who put their hands up come selection time on Friday, his position is still far from ideal.
“As it comes down you can see there is not a hell of a lot of players left,” said skills and kicking coach Richie Murphy, adding: “None of the real long-term injuries we talked about over the last couple of weeks are ready to play yet.”
D’Arcy was training yesterday with Kearney but the question is whether, even if he is fit, the former can hold off Fergus McFadden’s push for his inside centre throne. He is being challenged hard.
“I think he is,” says Murphy. “Ferg, we know what his attributes are . . . he is an extremely strong, hard-running centre, got good feet and is very strong in the tackle.
“It is the willingness to make space and he is in control and he is in there, so I think Gordon will be under a little bit of pressure to try to get back in there.
“He was extremely good at the weekend and as I said, he is an extremely robust character, extremely strong for his size and he puts himself about.
“You also have to look back to Gordon; he hasn’t played a huge amount this year, but looking at last year he was incredible in the run-in in the Heineken, those big games . . . you need people like Gordon, Fergus as well.”
D’Arcy is far from being edged out but Murphy’s job is to get every player competing with each other, his obligation to have every player unsettling the person in his position.
Exeter will provide a specific type of challenge, including a freshness to the competition, with little to lose and they have momentum.
They are the same ingredients the less established players provide for Leinster.
“The players who may come in won’t carry the same freight as international veterans but they can change the way the team performs in a positive way.
“You know the guys that are there at the moment their job is to try to stop him getting big games,” says Murphy. “Our job is to try to bring him through.
“If he doesn’t play in the centre he could end up on the wing again. That decision can’t be made at the moment because we are not exactly too sure how Gordon is. But we are hoping he will be about next week.”
If Munster coach Rob Penney is to be taken at face value, the weekend’s matches will not define the season for anyone.
That’s cold comfort to Schmidt and to whatever Leinster team lines out.
One way or the other, the lively Chiefs will arrive in Dublin on the war path.