Leinster go on retreat before launching critical phase of European assault

Leinster have raised the drawbridge ahead of their do-or-die Heineken Cup tie against Scarlets next weekend and retreated to the solitude of Johnstown House in Co. Meath for a two-day camp.

The four-star development boasts state-of-the-art sports facilities that include a full-sized rugby pitch, an all-weather surface, changing rooms, gym and physiotherapy facilities and Leinster have made use of it before.

Sunderland, Leeds United, Shamrock Rovers and the Cork and Galway county boards have all signed the guest book in times past as well, as have the Irish and French national rugby squads.

It was at the same Enfield address just over four years ago, on a similarly brief get-together for Declan Kidney’s Ireland squad, where Rob Kearney famously asked the question about Munster players and their performance levels in red and green jerseys. That session has been elevated to near mythical status since, despite the best efforts of the players involved to play down its significance since, but Ireland won a Grand Slam three months later so parallels are understandably being drawn this week.

“Not necessarily,” said Leinster’s team manager Guy Easterby when asked if he saw the comparisons. “The way that we travel back after every [away] game and on the night means we miss out on having some of that time together so we are going to go down there and have an afternoon of training, chill out and have dinner together. We spend a lot of time [in UCD] but we try to get the players out of here as quickly as they can so that they can freshen up their days, so it is just nice to go down there and spend time together as a group. That doesn’t take away from the importance of the game. Everyone understands it is a big game for us.”

Kearney, Brian O’Driscoll and Luke Fitzgerald were among those who travelled to the temporary HQ yesterday after all three came through Friday’s RaboDirect Pro12 win in Edinburgh after injury layoffs.

With Isa Nacewa, Richardt Strauss and Eoin O’Malley all fit, Leinster will approach Saturday’s Heineken Cup tie at the RDS with the closest thing they have known to a full squad since the season began.

“Luke, in particular, has been out an awful long time, Rob had only played 31 minutes for us this season before the weekend and Brian was not out quite as long but he still had a long time off,” said Easterby. “They were all fairly tired.”

Leinster will, in all likelihood, need 10 points from their games against Scarlets and Exeter to have a mathematical hope of reaching the quarter-finals and the Welsh team would appear an ideal first opponent.

Simon Easterby’s side is out of contention in the Heineken Cup and have lost five of the last six games, including last Friday’s 30-point defeat in Ravenhill, but his brother warned of a potential backlash yesterday.

“I touched base with [Simon] on Saturday and he was genuinely pissed off. I think they were 9-3 [down] at half time and the game got away from them. I just think they are too proud a club [not to perform].”

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