Big guns back for Leinster’s revenge bid

IT WON’T be mentioned in publicly by the Leinster camp this week, but Friday’s visit of the Ospreys to the RDS is a little bit of a revenge mission.

With that in mind, Joe Schmidt will be only too delighted to have a full armoury at his disposal for the visit of the champions – returning to the venue where they comprehensively won the Magners League title at Leinster’s expense last season.

Not only will the New Zealander welcome his rested internationals back into the fold, Luke Fitzgerald is back in contention after missing the whole of December with a knee injury sustained against the All Blacks.

Having beaten Connacht and Ulster so comprehensively without them, the return of Gordon D’Arcy, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip and Jonathan Sexton can only add weight to Leinster’s current status as the league’s form team.

Indeed their only loss since September came in the away fixture at the Liberty Stadium in November.

One man who must be glad he was able to make a return while the frontliners were having a Christmas break is Kevin McLaughlin, who made his return from a double whammy of knee and shoulder surgery in the win over Connacht.

An early cut to Sean O’Brien meant the one-cap back row had to last the 80 minutes and he was still feeling the pain yesterday, struggling to get out of bed to make training.

At the same time, he wouldn’t have swapped it for anything and, having watched the increasing brilliance of O’Brien and the emergence of Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock, last year’s rising star has been kicking his heels, waiting to get back on to the pitch.

“That’s what happens in a good club,” he said.

“When someone gets injured someone else steps up and it’s been good to see the young lads coming through, and it’s extremely competitive there now.

“It’s good to be back in because it’s been frustrating and hard for me to watch this season.

“It’s great to see the team go so well, but when you can’t do anything about it and you’re not involved it’s frustrating.

“I’ve had itchy feet for about three months now, and it was great to get back on Saturday and vent a bit of that. Now I just need to fight for my place and get it back.

“There are two young lads coming through playing very well, Seanie is playing the rugby of his life, Jenno (Shane Jennings) is playing well, Jamie (Heaslip) is there.”

If he is involved on Friday night McLaughlin will be facing the men against whom he did the initial damage to his knee – in the Grand Final defeat. This time last year he was in such good form that he made his international debut against Italy in February, but now he just wants to win his place back for his province.

“My first priority is to get my place back in the Leinster team and then take it from there,” he admits. “It does feel a bit like there is a bit of a mountain. It’s kind of exciting on the other hand because the team is playing so well and there is everything to play for, and for me to get my form to a level that is better than before to get my place back.”

Meanwhile, Munster hooker Jerry Flannery will finally learn the extent of his latest injury problem today.

Flannery was helped from the Thomond Park pitch on Saturday night in the final minute of the Magners League victory over Ulster after playing just 28 minutes as a second-half substitute in his first game since the recurrence of a calf injury in October.

Munster head coach Tony McGahan said Flannery’s latest setback was in the hooker’s other calf but hopes of conducting a scan on the problem to establish its severity have been put on hold until today following the New Year’s Bank Holiday.

Without Flannery, Munster have nine eligible front rows, including hookers Damien Varley and Mike Sherry, fit for Heineken Cup action but must have a minimum of 10 available under ERC rules. Munster are able to make one addition to their 38-man Heineken Cup squad ahead of the must-win round five pool game in Toulon on January 16 but if Flannery is ruled out they will have to nominate another hooker by noon on the previous Wednesday.

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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