LEINSTER coach Michael Cheika has ordered Isa Nacewa to wrap himself up in cotton wool to ensure his availability for Heineken Cup action against Llanelli Scarlets on Saturday week.
Accordingly, there is no sign of Nacewa in the Leinster squad for Sunday’s Magners League clash with Newport Gwent Dragons at Rodney Parade (5pm). In the absence of the injured Jonathan Sexton the out half berth will go to Shaun Berne, with youngster Ian McKinley likely to provide the back-up.
Sexton’s loss for a month is bad enough, but Cheika clearly believes that the champions could hardly survive a Heineken Cup challenge against the Scarlets without Nacewa on board.
Nevertheless, Cheika is happy to have Berne in the panel. The Australian has been a consistent performer for the European champions whenever called upon, and the squad won’t be shy of experience for the trip to Wales with players such as Malcolm O’Kelly, CJ van der Linde and Bernard Jackman, John Fogarty, Mike Ross and Devin Toner all named in the list of forwards and Girvan Dempsey, Fergus McFadden and Chris Keane in the backs.
Leinster have lost on their last two trips to Rodney Parade, a fact not gone unnoticed by defence coach Kurt McQuilkin, who said: “The Dragons have an excellent record this season and a good one at home against us in particular. It’s an intimate ground where you hear every comment and that puts a lot of pressure on the away team and the officials when things don’t go right.
“However, the attitude by the players over the last few weeks has been first class and we’re looking forward to a good performance,” he said.
Ulster have refuted suggestions that their Springbok prop BJ Botha wants a return to South Africa.
Botha made a surprise return to Springbok colours at Croke Park last Saturday and since then there have been rumours the 29 year-old has been keen to return to Natal before his contract with Ulster expires in 2011. However, Ulster’s Operations Director David Humphreys stressed yesterday there was no truth in the rumours.
“No way,” said Humphreys. “Brian and the coaching staff see BJ as one of the cornerstones of what is a young Ulster team and he is very much a part of what we are trying to achieve in terms of bringing the team through. He is enjoying his time at Ulster Rugby and plays a hugely important role for us.”
However, Botha (knee injury) will be one of a number of front-line players absent from Friday night’s Magners League clash with Glasgow at Ravenhill (8pm); amongst those missing are Stephen Ferris, Paddy Wallace and Robbie Diack, who are injured and Andrew Trimble who is rested from a side that will be captained by Chris Henry.
LEINSTER (from): Forwards: M Flanagan, J Fogarty, T Hogan, B Jackman, S Keogh, R McCormack, J McGrath, M O’Kelly, M Ross, R Ruddock, D Ryan, P Ryan, R Strauss, D Toner, CJ van der Linde.
Backs: S Berne, G Dempsey, C Keane, D Kearney, M Keating, S Keogh, I Madigan, F McFadden, I McKinley, N Morris, E O’Malley.
ULSTER (from): Forwards: T Court, B Young, D Fitzpartick, A Macklin, J Fitzpatrick, A Kyriacou, N Brady, E O’Donoghue, R Caldwell, D Tuohy, D Pollock, W Falloon, C Henry (captain), T Houra, T Anderson.
Backs: C Schifcofske, S Danielli, T Nagusa, J Shiels, N O’Connor, I Humphreys, D Cave, I Whitten, P Marshall, I Boss, J Smith.
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