Cheika sees his options improve

 

News: Although Leinster arrived at Ravenhill on St Stephen's Day a couple of bodies short, there is little panic in the camp over player availability for Saturday's highly anticipated Celtic League match against Munster at the RDS.

Expected to return is loosehead prop Reggie Corrigan, who picked up a flu bug late in the day and could not line out in Ravenhill - his absence allowing the former Ulster prop Ronan McCormack to play against some erstwhile team-mates.

Shane Horgan flew into Dublin with a bruised hip from the week's warm-weather activity with the Irish squad in Lanzarote and failed to make the pitch but he too is expected to be available for selection in four days' time.

Ireland centre Gordon D'Arcy and fullback Girvan Dempsey also arrived in Belfast with flu symptoms before going on to play try-scoring roles in the 24-19 victory.

All four players, along with Brian O'Driscoll, are expected to step forward when Leinster coach Michael Cheika asks for availability for Saturday's game.

The Ireland and Lions captain came through his Ravenhill cameo showing no obvious problems with the shoulder, and Leinster look set to play with almost a full deck against Munster, something they have been unable to do for some time given the prolonged absence of O'Driscoll and Denis Hickie.

With Hickie progressing well with his injury and expected to return in the near future, Cheika finally has a few positives running with him.

Munster, having defeated Connacht last night in Galway, now have just three days before the Dublin meeting, which had sold over 10,000 tickets up to yesterday. The fixture is brewing to be quite a clash, thanks not least to Leinster's improvement playing their high-tempo running game. After the Ulster victory the coach was pleased with progress.

"We have put a lot of emphasis on making sure we backed up after France (Bourgoin) in another hostile environment and away from home," said Cheika after the win.

"We had a few boys come back from Lanzarote with the flu. Reggie couldn't play. Girvan had a bit of it and Shane came back injured and couldn't play so a lot of it was to show heart and they showed it. They've been doing it pretty consistently now and hopefully it's going to be a habit that builds into our game.

"One of the big things which we've been doing but getting better at is taking our opportunities when they come. I said we've just got to relax at the set-pieces, get a bit more direct, get a bit wider, run at them and challenge them. If we challenge them regularly we'll get a few breaks, and the breaks we got we were able to take advantage of.

"I'd seen Brian train and I always knew he was going to be able to handle it. He's got a bit of confidence and he's got a big smile on his face now. But I think Denis Hickie is going to be back soon too so that's going to add a bit of depth for us.

"I'm not getting carried away. There are still a lot of errors in our game we need to sort out, especially back-to-back ones, that we don't want to make mistake after mistake. But I'm really happy we've got this stack of games together. It's really what we need as a team."

What pleased Cheika was that he was also able to put in several players who were able to do a holding job effectively.

When Guy Easterby was sinbinned after 65 minutes for a deliberate tackle when offside, Leinster had to scramble hard to survive the Ulster pressure. A reorganisation of personnel, for which number eight Jamie Heaslip was required to come off, held the game together for Leinster.

"I think I got a bit confused with the replacements at one stage," said the coach. "If you are going to lose a man in the sinbin, a halfback's the man you don't want to lose. He's so instrumental to the game going forward and we know we won't be playing Keith (Gleeson) at halfback any more after he had his little go there.

"It worked out quite well in the end. We put Brian (O'Riordan) on and were able to take him off and bring Ben (Gissing) on to finish the game. Jamie (Heaslip) wasn't too happy about missing the last 10 minutes. But that type of stuff we've prepared for. It worked out nice for us."

While Leinster have the comfort of home advantage, Ulster make the journey to the Sportsground on Saturday, where they seek to hold on to their top-four position against Connacht.