IT IS back to basics this week for Leinster. Last Saturday it was Wasps, the Heineken Cup and a heaving RDS. This Friday it will be Glasgow, approximately 2,000 people and Glasgow’s Firhill in the Magners League.
Having lost the two interpros to Munster and Connacht prior to their recent European appointments, it is a game they cannot afford to lose if they have any intention of reclaiming the trophy they won last year.
Their league record to date is almost identical to this stage last season, with two defeats and a draw already on the board, but Munster’s 100% start has upped the stakes significantly this time, while the Ospreys and Scarlets also stand between them and the top of the table.
“We have two massive games in the Magners League before we play Castres in December back-to-back so it’s vital that we pick up points, starting this Friday,” said coach Michael Cheika. “We’re happy enough with how things are going, but there are some bumps and bruises to contend with.
“It’s important that we always try to play our best, but particularly at this time of year and that’s maybe something that we haven’t done as well in the past. We will really need to be on-song if we’re going to win our next game.”
He isn’t quite correct with that assessment. Leinster have been habitually superb in the aftermath of early-season European duties having lost just one of the 10 Magners League games they have played in between the October and December Heineken Cup fixtures this past five seasons.
The Australian still has reason to be wary. Leinster have lost their last two games in Firhill and, though that doesn’t equate to the toils they have experienced in Edinburgh in recent times, the Warriors have never been less than sticky opponents home or away. Last year, the Scots pipped a tight encounter at home 21-17 and a surprise six-point win over their Irish visitors in early April of the 2006-07 season was a major contributing factor in Leinster losing that year’s league by just three points.
“We lost in the last minute up there last year and we know that it’s going to be a big game for us,” says Cheika. “We’re going to put everything into context, understand exactly where we are at this stage of the season and push on and improve. Dan Parks is a great player and he controls the game very well,” Cheika explained. “Thom Evans and his brother Max have pace to burn, but they’re also quality players. It’s not just a case of them being fast.
“Lome Fa’atau is an exciting player and they have great strength throughout their pack in Alastair Kellock.
“They’re a very underrated side. They finished even higher up the table than a lot of people imagined and I’d estimate that they’ll focus on finishing even higher this year.”
Glasgow’s fourth place finish last year was, in fact, the highest ever by a Scottish side in the tournament and they will be encouraged by the absence of Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen from the visitors’ roster after the injuries that duo sustained against Wasps.
Cheika has called up a collection of inexperienced players for what will be the province’s last outing prior to the break for the autumn internationals. Promising backs Felix Jones, Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley are all named, as are forwards Kevin McLaughlin and Sean O’Brien.
“We have picked up a few injuries from the Wasps game so I’d say that there’ll be squad rotation for this match.
“Glasgow played well against Toulouse last weekend and they’re going to be focused on the domestic competition after losing a few games in Europe.”
Forwards: C Healy, R McCormack, S Wright, B Blaney, J Fogarty, B Jackman, S Knoop, CJ van der Linde, T Hogan, C Jowitt, M O’Kelly, D Toner, R Elsom, Stephen Keogh, S Jennings, S O’Brien, J Heaslip, K McLaughlin.
Backs: C Keane, C Whitaker, J Sexton, Simon Keogh, F McFadden, F Contepomi, L Fitzgerald, E O’Malley, G Brown, S Horgan, F Jones, G Dempsey, R Kearney.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved