MICHAEL CHEIKA has declared his confidence in back-up out-half Shaun Berne despite admitting he had attempted to recruit fellow Australian Matt Giteau on a short-term contract last week.
The Leinster coach made his audacious but unsuccessful move for the Wallaby number 10 ahead of the upcoming Heineken Cup clash against the Scarlets after Jonathan Sexton had been ruled out with a hand injury.
“We had a bit of a look there,” said Cheika of the Giteau bid. “No doubt about it. A lot of people would say you have to have confidence in the players on your team. We have 100% confidence in everyone.
“The first person I would have told about us having a look there would have been Shaun because he, like us, understands that the more quality players we have available the better chance we have of winning any game. It’s not just a matter of this week. There are other weeks after this and if we take another injury in the back line — and we’re missing Luke Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton — you lose one other and that is a chunk of your back line.”
Cheika is also waiting on news of Girvan Dempsey who missed a severely weakened Leinster’s 30-14 Magners League loss away to the Newport Gwent Dragons last Sunday after picking up a knock in training.
On the plus side, Stan Wright has returned to the squad having recovered from a torn muscle injury quicker than was expected, while utility back Isa Nacewa will also feature after time off due to the birth of his twins.
Mia Rose and Ellie were born premature after only 33 weeks and, though both were delivered in good health and breathing on their own, the 27-year-old was given time off to get acquainted with the new arrivals.
Whether Nacewa would have started against the Dragons anyway is a moot point. Cheika rested all his front-line troops aside from CJ van der Linde for that match, with Berne one of those wrapped in cotton wool.
“You’ve got to be mindful that, with two European games coming up, we’re only allowed to register a certain number of players,” said the coach. “In our squad, we have three registered five-eighths (out-halfs) — Jonathan, Shaun and Isa.
“We’ve Jonathan out so if Shaun got injured last week, we’ve only got one five-eighth for the next couple of weeks because I can’t call upon (Ian) McKinley because he’s not registered.”
How the former Bath and Waratahs player fares remains to be seen at Parc Y Scarlets but Nacewa seems more than happy that he will probably be featuring at wing or full-back instead.
“With Luke Fitzgerald down there is always an opportunity for me to play out on the wing, especially with Shaggy (Shane Horgan) and Rob Kearney fit as well. I’ve always been cover (at 10) even for Johnny (Sexton) through the season. Ideally I’d like to be in the back three but it is up to Michael to make the decision.”
It is a decision that was probably made this time last year when Nacewa failed to fit into the out-half pocket at his then new club despite having impressed there during his time with the Blues.
No doubt about it, he is happier out in the extremities of the back line than he is in the engine room but, if anything, he feels there may be too much attention being paid to the position with Sexton off the scene.
“I enjoy my time in the back three. I’ve had a bit more time. Being out-half with the guys like (Eoin) Reddan, BOD (Brian O’Driscoll) and (Gordon) D’Arcy around, they take a bit of pressure off you anyway,” he explained.
“Whoever dips in there for the team, they have a lot of support around them. Ten may be the number one shot-caller but with those guys out there, contributing and passing information the whole game, it makes the position a lot easier.’’
Leinster squad (v Scarlets)
Forwards: C Healy, L Cullen, J Fogarty, J Heaslip, N Hines, B Jackman, R McCormack, S Keogh, K McLaughlin, S O’Brien, M O’Kelly, M Ross, D Toner, CJ van der Linde, S Wright.
Backs: S Berne, G D’Arcy, G Dempsey, S Horgan, C Keane, R Kearney, Simon Keogh, F McFadden, I Nacewa, P O’Donohoe, B O’Driscoll, E Reddan.
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