Leinster resume their season after a month's hiatus with a meaty block of 10 games and a truckload of issues arising from the autumn series to consider, namely a quartet of injuries and balancing the needs of nine players who started all three Tests against those who haven't played in four weeks.
Johnny Sexton will miss the two home derbies against Ulster, on Saturday night at the RDS (8pm), and Connacht as well as Leinster's European opener against Bath at the Aviva Stadium on December 11th while also potentially their ensuing games away to Montpellier and Munster.
Jamison Gibson-Park (hamstring) and Jack Conan (quad) will be assessed further this week while James Ryan has entered the graduated return to play protocols. In addition to Ryan, Hugo Keenan, Garry Ringrose, James Lowe, Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Josh van der Flier and Caelan Doris started all three wins.
However, forwards coach Robin McBryde, who has filled that role with Wales and the Lions, countered: "I think Ireland manage them from a national point of view better than any other country that I've come across anyway.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve got good strength in depth so we can afford to treat each individual case with regards to how much minutes they’ve played and make sure that they don’t get burn-out because it’s going to be a busy schedule.”
Another plus is that Andrew Porter reverting to loosehead has been thoroughly vindicated.
“Ports is comfortable in his own shoes. He doesn’t get fazed by a lot of things. If he didn’t have the ability to do it, then we wouldn’t have even raised it with him really.
“But he is obviously a physical specimen isn’t he, as well as everything else. You need your best players on the pitch at the same time, so it’s great to see him play all those minutes in the past month, where in the past, he has been coming on for 15/20 minutes after Tadhg (Furlong) has come off.
"It's tough for Cian Healy, but Cian took it on the chin with regards to helping him out. He's been brilliant with that. It was a positive campaign for Ireland, as a team, as a pack and for Andrew as an individual, I thought he was excellent," said McBryde, also noting that the switch helps Porter have more of an impact on both sides of the ball.
“When he hits something, it generally moves. He has got plenty of footballing skills about him as well. This is his first campaign as a loosehead, so he’s only going to get better and the World Cup a couple of years away, it’s going to be a formidable force really, Ireland as a pack, and definitely as a front-row unit.”
Will Connors and Thomas Clarkson have returned to training after being sidelined since last March, although Conor O'Brien will be unavailable for a number of months and Dave Kearney for a few weeks after picking up hamstring and back injuries in the Leinster 'A' game against Ulster last Friday.
The most disconcerting aspect of last Sunday’s win was the sight of Ryan departing with another concussive episode.
“We’ll be led by the medics,” said McBryde. “I don’t think it’s just confined to Leinster, it’s throughout world rugby at the moment with regards to trying to lessen these impacts and making sure that we look after the player. Put their health first. You’ve just got to go through those protocols and trust that they’re in the best hands. I’m sure they are. We’ll just have to wait and see on that one.”
Connacht have been given a significant boost by the news that their outhalf Jack Carty has signed a new three-year contract until 2025. The 29-year-old had interested a couple of Top 14 clubs before signing his current one-year deal and not having played for Ireland since winning the last of his ten caps at the World Cup the province might have feared he would seek pastures new.
However, on the back of some excellent displays for Connacht this season he was called up to the Irish squad last week after Johnny Sexton’s withdrawal due to injury.