Leinster in rude health in advance of Champions Cup duty
Squad boasting six wins from six in the Pro14 now strengthened by returning World Cup contingent
Robbie Henshaw: has returned to training for Leinster’s clash against Benetton on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Robbie Henshaw will return to training this week having withdrawn from Leinster’s game against Connacht after feeling sick before the match last Friday.
But the mood in the camp with six Pro 14 wins from six and just one win bonus point dropped (their 3-0 win over Zebre), is that Leinster have not stopped accelerating out of the starting blocks.
With the Irish centre’s return, Leinster will have the luxury of picking from almost all of their World Cup players for the first round of the Champions Cup this week against Benetton.
That could spark Leo Cullen’s first selection conundrum of the season, although Sean Cronin won’t be a part of that. The Irish hooker remains unavailable for this week’s game. Cronin has been following a rehabilitation program following a neck injury he sustained in training with Ireland during the World Cup. He will commence some light skills work this week.
“They are all up for selection,” said Stuart Lancaster. “But it is a challenge, isn’t it? Because we’ve played really, really well. For the last six Pro14 games, we’ve won six out of six, we’ve only dropped one bonus point. We had a great win against Connacht with some young lads really stepping up.”
Luke McGrath made his seasonal debut in Galway and the other returning World Cup players were back last week. There is also an urge for some to get straight into competition after more bench time than they would have liked in Japan.
Henshaw has played just three times in the centre, for a total of 216 minutes, since Wales in September while Jordan Larmour was involved in eight international matches over the same time frame, for a total of 489 minutes.
“What’s happened is the lads have come back from the World Cup, there’s been no hangover because they can’t afford it. They realise that if they don’t perform in training they’re not going to get picked in the team,” explained the assistant coach.
The inclusion of 23-year-old Will Connors remains in doubt. The Kildare-born backrow was taken off towards the end of the game against Connacht with a head injury and will follow the graduated return to play protocols s under the supervisions of Leinster medical staff.
Longer-term injuries will continue to keep Fergus McFadden (elbow), Jack Conan (foot), Dan Leavy (knee) and Barry Daly (knee) out of selection. Vakh Abdaladze picked up a back last week injury and will join that group, at least for the next few weeks.
There was some better news for fullback Hugo Keenan and prop Ed Byrne. Keenan came through the game against Connacht with no ill-effects on his ankle with Byrne also emerging healthy from Leinster’s sixth successive league win, having returning from a neck injury.
“The gap is narrowed between those lads who have been involved with Ireland and with those lads who want to play for Ireland and also play for Leinster,” explained Lancaster. “We will have a strong squad out.
“The good thing is we had last week’s training, so a lot of the lads who have had time off after the World Cup all trained last week. They are very much back into the way we do things here.”
Treviso do not represent a soft touch for last year’s finalists, although with the game taking place on Saturday it gives the home side one more day to knit in the returning players.
Last years the sides drew in the RDS and Leinster lost to the Italian club the previous year, although a round one meeting in September gave Leinster a five-point win in Stadio Monigo.