Cheika cheer as Lions return to Donnybrook den

LEINSTER welcome back three of their Lions into the squad to face The Dragons in tomorrow’s Celtic League clash at Donnybrook (7.10pm).

Shane Horgan and Denis Hickie are both expected to feature on the bench as Leinster coach Michael Cheika continues to ease his Lions and other Ireland internationals back into the fray.

Gordon D'Arcy is the third name, though Cheika expects fitness tests today to confirm his suspicion that the centre will require a further week before being involved on match day.

Reggie Corrigan is included in the panel for the first time this season after recovering from minor injury. Eric Miller's name also appears though the injured wing forward's chances of taking part are rated far slimmer than those of Corrigan's.

"Since the guys have come back to training they've been flat at it, they've been working very hard to be back in time," said Cheika of his Lions representatives.

"It's been very refreshing for me and for all the squad that they've been pushing so hard to get back in."

As is always the case following a Lions tour, there will be fears that the dozen Irish tourists in Clive Woodward's squad may suffer from a loss of form or succumb to injury caused by such a heavy workload.

Eddie O'Sullivan had already released both Ronan O'Gara and Donncha O'Callaghan a week early for Munster's game against Glasgow on Saturday and Cheika reiterated yesterday that his own squad was also pieced together with the Ireland manager's blessing.

"I've spoken to Eddie and he's fine. This was the programme from the start. I was always pretty clear about what they wanted. This is still part of it. We're still basically in the pre-season cycle for these players.

"It's just a delicate balance between the requirements for the season ahead and wanting to get the players back playing football, which is what they love doing."

Cheika's sentiments were echoed by Hickie whose last competitive game came back on July 5 when the Lions' midweek team took on Auckland in the tour's penultimate game.

"Early July was the last time that I had any involvement in a game and I've been back training for six weeks at this stage.

"It might look from the outside that we're only back but I've been over to Spala (in Poland) and back here I've been involved with the squad for the last week or two. You've got to start sometime so it starts now."

Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) has validated the Diploma in Professional Rugby programme run by the Leinster branch for its Academy players.

The three-year, part-time programme aims to develop the student whose primary aim is still to represent the province in all areas of sport while also affording time to fulfil academic ambitions.

"A professional career is a steadily growing option for a small number of elite sports people," said HETAC Chief Executive Seamus Puirseil. "However, we also recognise that it is not a long-term career. This gives players additional career opportunities when retiring from the game or if, for whatever reason, a professional career does not materialise or is suddenly ended."

LEINSTER SQUAD: (Forwards): Reggie Corrigan, John Lyne, Will Green, Emmett Byrne, Ronan McCormack, Bernard Jackman, David Blaney, Adam Byrnes, Ben Gissing, Simon Crawford, Niall Ronan, Keith Gleeson, Eric Miller, Jamie Heaslip

(Backs): Guy Easterby, Brian O'Meara, Christian Warner, Felipe Contepomi (capt), Gordon D'Arcy, Kieran Lewis, Shane Horgan, Gary Brown, Robert Kearney, Denis Hickie, Girvan Dempsey.

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