Lancaster: Leinster not giving up on O’Brien and Henshaw

Luke McGrath in race to recover in time for European Champions Cup semi-final

Robbie Henshaw training with Leinster on Monday. “Robbie is good to go. He has ticked all the boxes he needs to tick,” said Stuart Lancaster. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Robbie Henshaw training with Leinster on Monday. “Robbie is good to go. He has ticked all the boxes he needs to tick,” said Stuart Lancaster. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Stuart Lancaster insists that Leinster are not giving up hope on the fitness of Seán O’Brien and Robbie Henshaw for Saturdays European Champions Cup semi-final against Scarlets in the Aviva Stadium.

Scrumhalf Luke McGrath, recovering from a knee injury, is also in a race against time with the Leinster coach confirming that the team will probably be known to players on Tuesday or Wednesday in order to prepare for the side that beat them in Dublin in last season’s Pro14 semi-final.

McGrath’s fitness will have a knock on effect. If he can’t line out then James Lowe will be left out. Competition rules permit just two overseas players, which have been scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park and utility forward Scott Fardy, to be in the match day squad.

“We’re not giving up hope on Seán. Jack Conan coming back is a big bonus,” said Lancaster. “Robbie is good to go. He has ticked all the boxes he needs to tick and he was 24th man on Saturday. He trained last week so, again, another bonus.”

Team cohesion

“There comes a point in the week where you need to make a decision for the cohesion of the team. Boys need to know who is starting and who is on the bench. It’s not quite at that stage yet. Today and tomorrow morning’s training will be key really to that.”

Lancaster has confidence in the backrow if O’Brien cannot show he is 100 per cent fit with a healthy Conan adding to Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy and Scott Fardy, all international players.

Gibson-Park has also improved at nine, impressing Lancaster against Benetton, especially in the defensive side of his play, which was perceived as needing some work.

“There’s areas of his game to work on defensively but I thought he did exceptionally well in that game, defensively particularly, for me,” explained Lancaster.

“Obviously he’s quite different as an attacker. It’s there for everyone to see. He’s played in big games in Super Rugby. He’s played in big games for us and if Luke’s not available then this is Jamison’s time and there’s no doubt in my mind that he’s ready to play at this level.”

Leinster will look to perform in the opening quarter with Lancaster dismissing notions that there is always time to catch up from a slow start.

Opening phase

Citing Leinster’s away game against Clermont in the Champions Cup last season, the opening phase was where Leinster began to allow the match run away from them.

“Losing big game teaches valuable lessons in sport,” says the former England coach. “ The challenge of last year was obviously going away to Clermont, trying to win away from home against a top team. The experience there was about the first 15 minutes.

“Something might not happen or something might go wrong in the first five, 10 or 15 minutes and you think it won’t matter at the end of the game. But everything does matter, from one to 80 minutes.”

Last year’s defeat to the Welsh side was a cautionary tale. This year’s Scarlets also arrive with a health warning.

Lancaster agrees with Leo Cullen that the most recent model is even better than the 2017 version and knocks on the head any perception that they come as a team that throws the ball around and not much more.

“I think they’re stronger as well,” agrees Lancaster. “I think people underestimate the quality of their defence. I think people don’t really understand their defensive system and their defensive philosophy.

“They are, without doubt, the toughest opponents we will have faced so far in Europe.”

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