Cheika insists Leinster have belief
RUGBY - SQUAD NEWS: Michael Cheika is confident Bernard Jackman will be available for selection against Wasps and, ahead of an appeal tomorrow, hopes the suspended Shane Jennings will feature in the crunch Heineken Cup pool game as well.
Jackman is named in an extended 26-man squad after coming through a series of rehabilitation programmes for knee problems. The mobile hooker would certainly give Cheika’s side more ball-carrying options and forward momentum to free up the backline.
It was an area of Leinster’s play that was lacking in their narrow 21-20 Magners League win over Cardiff at the RDS last weekend. They were spared defeat by the boot of Felipe Contepomi, who converted all seven penalty attempts with the winner coming in the final seconds of the game.
“Bernard participated in training on Monday and we're confident that he will be available for selection. CJ (van der Linde) didn't train yesterday but we'll wait and see,” said Cheika today.
"We have had a plan, since the week off before the Ulster game, on how we wanted to bring players back into the team and we feel that we're pretty well on track for that.
"The players who are not in the starting XV still have a major role to play in terms of making an impact and finishing games off. The form of some players has put pressure on others, and I'm still hopeful that Jennings will have an opportunity to play because we'll be appealing that decision tomorrow.”
Jennings was suspended for three weeks after being found guilty of punching during the Magners League win over Connacht. His ban is due to finish on the 27th of this month.
A win would ensure progress to the knockout stages but recent wins have come against inferior opposition and Cheika’s men need to up their performance to contend at Twickenham.
"I've got a lot of belief in the team, I always have done," said the Australian. "I'm not naïve and I know that we have needed to play better (recently), but we're aware that we're playing against very different forces.
"We have gained a lot more self belief and you could see that in the body language at the end of the Cardiff game. A lot of our guys have had some good moments in Twickenham at international level for Ireland, but this weekend it's all about the final product that we produce on the day."
Also included in a squad are the experienced trio of Malcolm O’Kelly, Girvan Dempsey and Shane Horgan, who all have over 150 caps for the province. Horgan recorded his 150th against Cardiff at the weekend while O’Kelly and Dempsey have 156 and 151 respectively.
Leinster romped the first match 41-11 at the RDS with Brian O'Driscoll scoring two of the six tries last October. Three bonus points are the difference between the sides at the top of the pool, but Dempsey believes the former double Heneken Cup champions will present a much tougher test on their own turf.
“This is the big one – made all the bigger after our round four slip-up at Castres Olympique,” said Dempsey. “It meant we didn’t come away with the win we wanted and needed and that, along with Wasps beating Edinburgh, really opened up the pool.
“It makes this is our make-or-break pool game and, as Twickenham is such a special ground, we just hope the game lives up to its billing.”
Dempsey, who was one of five Leinster players who featured in Ireland’s 28-24 victory over England in the RBS Six Nations clash at Twickenham in 2006, added:
“The players certainly will not be daunted by either the size of the ground or the crowd and playing at Twickenham will only inspire us.”
Cheika is expected to name his starting XV at lunchtime on Friday with kick-off on Saturday at 5.35pm. Leinster rugby expect over 7,000 fans to make the trip to London.
Leinster squad (v London Wasps)
Forwards(14): C Healy, S Wright, B Jackman, J Fogarty, O le Roux, CJ van der Linde, L Cullen, D Toner, T Hogan, M O'Kelly, R Elsom, S Keogh, S O'Brien, J Heaslip
Backs(12): C Keane, C Whitaker, I Nacewa, J Sexton, G D'Arcy, S Keogh, F Contepomi, L Fitzgerald, B O'Driscoll, S Horgan, G Dempsey, R Kearney