Leinster hopeful over injury list as Munster look to regroup
RUGBY: LEINSTER WILL hold on to reasonably strong hopes that Rob Kearney and Gordon D’Arcy might yet recover from the back and rib injuries which ruled them out of Saturday’s 30-21 win over Munster to play in their Heineken Cup opener at home to Exeter Chiefs next Saturday.
Likewise, they are optimistic that Brian O’Driscoll and Isa Nacewa will recover from the ankle strain and bruised thigh that forced their withdrawal during the win at the Aviva Stadium.
With Leo Cullen and Isaac Boss also expected to be back in the frame, their biggest concern arising from a win which elevated them above Munster into fourth in the Pro12 table is Kevin McLaughlin, who required a scan on a hyper extended elbow which forced him from the fray inside a dozen minutes.
With Seán O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan amongst their walking wounded, they will be desperately hoping the scan does not reveal any ligament damage, while their outside back options are now so stretched that they finished with a replacement scrumhalf John Cooney on the wing, an outhalf (Ian Madigan) at fullback and Fionn Carr, on the other wing.
They’re not quite skeletal, but with Exeter downing the English champions Harlequins by 42-28 on Saturday, Leinster aren’t exactly brimming with health either.
“The biggest concern for us is injury,” admitted a concerned Joe Schmidt. “Because the biggest concern for us coming in here was injury. That has been exacerbated by what’s happened tonight, but the quality of the rugby in the first 55 minutes was very good.”
So good were Leinster for much of the first hour that nearing the 60-minute mark they would have obtained a bonus point had Fergus McFadden put Carr over before Munster rallied strongly to redeem something from the night even if, in their derby fervour, they eschewed a bonus point.
While each side missed the kind of potent and direct ball carrying that Seán O’Brien and David Wallace have given this and countless other fixtures over the years, there was loads of positive intent and high skill by both teams, even if there seemed to be somewhat less than the official number (46,280) of tickets sold.
Strangely, the best seat in the house was taken by a solitary magpie, who stationed himself in the Leinster in-goal area for much of the first half, yet switched ends for the second half and was still there at the end; admittedly the cut-up relaid surface perhaps detaining him more than the match.
There was plenty of food for thought for the coaches. Schmidt said Munster’s “superb” first try “was a great example of the width they’re trying to play. They’re going to be dangerous when they get more comfortable and proficient at it. I’d like to think we can be a bit more proficient defensively.”
“I thought we developed a couple of good situations to attack from, but maybe we didn’t respect the ball enough. There were a couple of times where we forced things on the ground and turned over. It was a roll-your-sleeves-up kind of night.
“Hopefully when we get through the medical centre and put out a good side for Exeter because with them putting 40 points on Harlequins today, you don’t do that without being a quality side. We’re very well aware that’s what they are. If you judge them on last season’s results and the style of play they’ve developed, I don’t think it’s a massive surprise. They can put points on a team very quickly.”
The evening wasn’t without its concerns for both camps. Aside from another reminder that Leinster have travelled a longer road, Munster were exposed to a tempo that they perhaps hadn’t come across this season, and were found a little wanting. They rallied impressively, although by then Leinster had lost McLaughlin, Nacewa, O’Driscoll and Ross.
“I’m rapt with their commitment and preparation,” said Rob Penney. “After being seven points down, we ripped into the game pretty early on. Our endeavour and commitment was fantastic. Our accuracy was average. We made too many errors, both offensively and defensively. At the end of the day, you can’t make that many errors against a good side like Leinster, or any side really, but Leinster are going to make you pay for those errors. And we made too many errors to get out of that game with a result.”
Although it seemed heresy coming from a Cork journalist, Penney was even asked if there would be a debate about the out-half position. “There’ll be discussions about a number of people. We’re still working through the best mix for the team at the moment.”
That assuredly entails the backline, and specifically where to accommodate Keith Earls.
Munster face their third successive away game next Saturday at the Stade de France against Racing Metro, who lost 16-12 at home to Montpellier on Saturday.
“To say next week defines our season, or the next two weeks defines our season, is a bit harsh and short-sighted. Because we have lads in there that are new to this. And every opportunity for them to play is a growing opportunity. And I for one am really positive about the direction in which they’re headed.”