Cheika opts for Leinster big guns

LEINSTER will roll out the big names for Saturday’s crucial Magners League clash with Munster at Thomond Park (7.30). The return of Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald, Jamie Heaslip and Rob Kearney was a no-brainer for coach Michael Cheika as Leinster set about trying to overhaul leaders Munster.

With so much at stake, Cheika will be acutely aware of the need for his front-line troops to re-group and get much needed game time a week ahead of a Heineken Cup quarter-final clash with Harlequins. Cheika may have named a large squad of 29, but the selection of Rocky Elsom and captain Leo Cullen are two selection points that won’t require any debate. What he does with the back division will be interesting though.

Finding places for Ireland’s Grand Slam heroes will necessitate a big decision in probably leaving Girvan Dempsey and either Shane Horgan or Isa Nacewa on the bench, despite Cheika’s glowing post-match comments on Horgan at the weekend.

Eyes will also be on Cheika’s selection at out-half. The call will most likely go to Felipe Contepomi, with Jonathan Sexton again having to be happy with a place in the 22.

Despite scoring tries in Leinster’s 32-6 demolition of Ulster at the weekend, it’s unlikely that Fergus McFadden or Simon Keogh will be involved.

Meanwhile, in excess of 5,500 Leinster supporters are expected to make the trip to Limerick for the match, one of the biggest groups to support the team in any recent away fixture.

Cheika is hoping they help spur his team to victory and that they take heart from the second-half display against Ulster.

“We identified the necessity to get quick ruck ball against Ulster and managed to get that in the second spell. It will be a lot tougher against Munster though; they’re one of the better teams at rucking in this competition and you don’t get much change against them.”

He is relying on Elsom and Shane Jennings to do the business at that end, . “they’re obviously two key players for us and the good thing is that they’re playing well.”

Both Irish teams secured bonus point victories at the weekend and Cheika was delighted, even if he had to wait until deep into injury time to see his charges secure the full five points.

Conscious that his side have one less day between matches to prepare, Cheika said it would not be productive to push the players too hard in midweek.

“We have to understand that we’re going down to play the European champions in their own backyard and we have to bring a certain attitude if we want to compete.

“That means we will have to improve on last weekend’s performance for longer periods of the game.

“It’s sure to be a tough match; the reds versus the blues in Irish rugby usually adds up to a pretty good go (game), we’re hurting a bit after being beaten up here (in Dublin) earlier in the season and we will be doing our best to reverse that for ourselves and our fans.

“It’s gotta be in our heads; if we’re ready for it (the battle), then we will be in with a shout. I don’t much care if we win by one or 20, the main objective is to get really stuck in and to win. I think it’s all about attitude from our point of view.”

Meanwhile World Cup winning trio Aled Brew, Tal Selley and Tom Issacs have been named in Dragons Head Coach Paul Turner’s squad to travel to Connacht for the Magners League match tomorrow on Friday (6:30pm)

Leinster squad: forwards - C Healy, R McCormack, J Fogarty, B Jackman, CJ van der Linde, S Wright, L Cullen, T Hogan, M O’Kelly, R Elsom, C Jowitt, S Jennings, S O’Brien, J Heaslip, S Keogh

Backs: C Keane, P O’Donohoe, C Whitaker, F Contepomi, J Sexton, L Fitzgerald, S Keogh, I Nacewa, G D’Arcy, F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, S Horgan, G Dempsey, R Kearney

Referee: Christophe Berdos (FFR).

DRAGONS (squad for Connacht): Backs — W Evans, R Fussell, A Brew, A Smith, R Sidey, S Connor, J Tovey, K Morgan, T Isaacs, T Selley, M Thomas.

Forwards: H Gustafson, T Willis, A Jones, G Webb, R Parks, H Macdonald, J Bearman, R Thomas, D Lydiate, L Charteris, S Tomes, N Hall, S Jones.

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