Leinster welcome back batch of big name players

Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa and Josh van der Flier among those returning for the weekend

Leinster are set to be bolstered by the return of several players from injury over the next two weekends of the Guinness Pro14 – facing the Dragons at home this Friday and Benetton away the following Saturday – as well as some of their Irish contingent.

Garry Ringrose, Isa Nacewa, Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Fergus McFadden and Ian Nagle have all returned, or will return, to training this week while new signing James Lowe is bedding in, albeit all of that good news has been offset by the loss of Joey Carbery and Mick Kearney, who injured his AC joint in the defeat to Glasgow three weeks ago.

With regard to Ringrose, head coach Stuart Lancaster said: "He was doing some on-field sessions last week so he'll be back. This week our plan is: we're training today, tomorrow off, Wednesday, obviously captain's run is Thursday and we play Friday. He looked good last week. He hasn't done any real contact in training just yet so that will be today and Wednesday. Realistically, if he doesn't play this week, he will definitely play next week."

Conceivably, all five will return if not against the Dragons this week, then “definitely” against Benetton, although the Dragons game has probably come too soon for Lowe. “We need to get him bedded into the systems and structures of the way we play. He’s a good guy and has a made a positive impact around the group. He’s in that process I was in when I first arrived of learning 60 players’ names and 30 coaches’ names.”


Game time

Carbery’s absence is particularly unfortunate in that Lancaster admitted this upcoming chunk of Pro14 games – either side of the back-to-back European meetings with Exeter – would have given the gifted 22-year-old some game time at outhalf.

“There is no way that Johnny would have played all those. He (Carbery) would have played at 10. Unfortunately, the injury now means that he will miss that window. He is still very young and I’m very confident – he works on and off the field – he will develop into a great 10.”

Necessity being the mother of invention, Carbery's run of games at fullback was in part due to injuries to Rob Kearney and Nacewa, and Lancaster added: "My view on it is, as I said the other day, he reminds me a lot about Beauden Barrett and how he developed as a player. He was a 15 who has evolved into a 10 and I think that's what will happen with Joey."

Lancaster also noted how Carbery bulked up during the pre-season. Lancaster arrived on the first weekend of last season, and recalling Carbery’s two try full debut against Benetton, admitted: “I remember looking at him, thinking, ‘this guy isn’t that big physically.’ He had a great pre-season and, physically, he is equipped to play international rugby. He was just unlucky at the weekend that he met with a big Fijian.

“He is tough mentally and he is certainly tough physically. He has the confidence and the courage to try things. That is a great asset for a player, particularly at 10;. He will never take the easy option. He will always push himself. If he makes a mistake, he doesn’t dwell on it too long which is another good quality. But, this is another window to get stronger, particularly in his lower limbs. He will be back, hopefully, in the New Year.”


Lancaster attended both of Ireland’s Guinness Series games so far and described the performance against the Springboks as very professional, clinical and comprehensive.

“I spoke to a few people after the game who said South Africa weren’t so good, and this that and the other, and yea, but there was a confidence and a solidity to the defence, the set-piece was good, the starter plays that they executed were good, they controlled the game, so as a coach you had to be pleased with that performance.”

Fiji showed a defensive discipline in the second half which, he added, made it hard for Ireland. Recalling how Fiji made England work for their win in the 2015 World Cup opener maintained that Joe Schmidt and co will have "learned a lot, not just in the game but in the week leading up to the game about how different players deal with pressure, new combinations."

Looking ahead to the meeting with Argentina, Lancaster said: “It’s always the last game that gives you that satisfied feeling because you know you’ve got a break leading into the Six Nations. You always want to finish on a good performance and I think he’ll be absolutely driving them this week to make sure that the performance against Argentina is the best of the three. And if they get that right then they should have a comfortable win.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times