Despite further positive Covid cases in both camps, the indications are that barring further widespread outbreaks both Leinster and Montpellier are on course to fulfill Sunday's Champions Cup game at the RDS (kick-off 1pm).
Leinster haven’t played a game since the win over Bath on December 11th at the Aviva Stadium, with Montpellier awarded a 28-0 bonus point win in round two before the postponements of their URC games against Munster, Ulster and the Lions.
The province reported one positive case, and a close contact, after their latest round of PCR testing yesterday but having hopefully come through the worst of it, appear to be in relative good health.
“Yeah exactly,” said forwards coach Robin McBryde yesterday, before adding with a wry smile: “You never know, do you? At the moment we’re in a better shape than ever numbers wise. At training today, I don’t know how many backs there were, but there were 24 forwards, three packs, so we’re in great shape really. We just need a game.”
Montpellier, who themselves had cases in their camp prior to being awarded that win in round two, have played only game in the intervening period and were forced to postpone their Top 14 match at home to Toulouse last Sunday. This followed 17 positive cases in their squad last week, leaving them with only four fit front-rowers, of which none were tight-heads.
A new series of PCR tests carried out yesterday morning confirmed three new positive cases “in the workforce”, although a club statement added: “The players concerned were immediately placed in isolation and the rest of the group continues to prepare for the trip to Leinster Rugby this weekend.”
That amounts to the clearest indication yet by Montpellier that they intend to fulfill Sunday’s fixture.
Certainly there is no doubt as to Leinster’s intent, given they are still smarting from the decision to award the Top 14 side a 28-0, bonus point walkover in round two.
Despite EPCR’s decision yesterday to determine the five round two matches in the Champions Cup which were postponed due to travel restrictions between France and the UK as 0-0 draws, this ruling does not affect the three cancelled matches so far, including Montpellier’s walkover against Leinster.
That ship has sailed.
Nonetheless, Leinster can channel their sense of grievance into Sunday’s game.
“Of course we can,” said McBryde. “It’s against the opposition that that result was given against as well, so there’s a frustration there. You’ve got to move on, adapt and deal with it. Everybody is having to deal with certain things, certain challenges so we’ve just got to put a positive spin on it, really.
“It’s just focus on training, our standard of training and with all the toing and froing our standard doesn’t drop at all,” added McBryde, who revealed that Josh van der Flier was even practicing his lineout throwing yesterday as the province seeks to cover every eventuality, including yellow cards.
Leinster's enforced idleness has at least ensured a relatively clean bill of health, with Johnny Sexton also back in the mix after being sidelined with the twisted knee he sustained in Ireland's win over the All Blacks.
Aside from the two Covid-affected cases, and the continuing absence of Conor O'Brien (hamstring), Dave Kearney (back) and Michael Milne (calf), the luckless Dan Leavy has undergone a procedure to stabilise a fracture in his wrist last week and will be unavailable for at least two months.
Montpellier may also have a refreshed if ring-rusty squad to choose from and McBryde knows this is a typically bruising, Philippe Saint-André coached side, who take particularly pride in their set-pieces.
“Yeah definitely. They’ve got the best defensive lineout in the Top 14. They’ve got some outstanding athletes in the pack. They’ve got a very strong scrum as well. It will be tough. I think they lie fourth in the Top 14.
“Without doubt, they’ve got the bit between the teeth. They’ve got some great results on the road as well so they shouldn’t be wary of travelling or anything. It will be a good test for us. They missed a couple of games as well so it will be all on the day. It will be great.
“I think it’s 5,000 capacity is it so I just hope that 5,000 people can be as vocal as they can on the day and just make it a great experience again.”