LONDON IRISH head coach Toby Booth will be dealing with a virtually full deck when he selects his matchday squad to face Munster on Saturday in their Heineken Cup opener in Reading.
The Aviva Premiership leaders will be missing three long-term injury victims for the Pool C showdown at the Madejski Stadium but the rest of the squad emerged unscathed from the 40-24 league victory over Leeds Carnegie last weekend and Booth will also welcome the return of several key men to the set-up in time to face a Munster team he labelled “The Red Machine”.
“Tom Homer and Chris Hala’ufia are back in training this week which is fantastic, which means the only long-term ones we’ve got left are Paulica (Ion), Adam Thompstone, and Steffon Armitage. They’re definite no’s but everyone else is pretty much there or thereabouts, which is remarkable,” Booth said.
Booth’s upbeat assessment is a testament to London Irish’s strength in depth, which was lacking last season when the injury-hit team faded badly down the home stretch of the Premiership campaign.
“Everybody’s talked about the second half of last year and what happened and if it’s all in one position it becomes an issue but putting the same team out across a 40-week season every week becomes tough as well. With all the best will in the world, there’s a little bit of staleness and it all comes down to the three rules of rugby as I see them – getting picked, getting paid and getting beasted.
“If you’ve got a little bit of a threat (for one’s place), that means you can excel. If there’s competition for places, people excel. It means we can put the same workrate in all the time and be a bit more pragmatic about recovery and looking after players because it’s certainly not getting any easier out there.”
Nor is Booth expecting an easy run against Munster and he said he was certainly not reading too much into their weekend defeat to Leinster.
“I’ve seen the game and I’m quite surprised that they lost. I’m sure they won’t read too much into a 12-9 defeat. I know there’s a lot of bragging rights in matches against Leinster but there’s no secret that the Heineken Cup is what everyone treasures from an Irish provincial point of view, as everybody does, but more so from getting players ready, they see it as part of their international programme so I don’t think a league fixture will carry the same credence.”
Booth said he was happy with the decision to play on their usual patch at the Madejski Stadium. London Irish switched last season’s final pool game against Leinster to Twickenham. The club reaped the rewards financially but home comforts for the London Irish players in the smaller Madjeski provide other advantages Booth hopes to exploit this weekend.
“We’ve made the decision to play at home because we want home-field advantage and that 24,000 crowd can be very intense.
“If we can have a 16th man that’s great and if we have one extra bit of effort or one extra decision, that’s a fantastic achievement.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved