WHILE Munster’s preparations have run smoothly, Leinster have travelled a far rockier road to their quarter-final.
Michael Cheika’s side have had the distraction of disciplinary hearings and transfer talks in the lead-up to their big game against Harlequins.
Jonathan Sexton’s disciplinary hearing and subsequent two-week suspension for an alleged kick at Lifemi Mafi will have rocked Cheika’s organisation. The young out-half was a potential starter considering Felipe Contepomi’s poor performance against Munster and his absence from the training pitch during the week will not have helped the planning for tomorrow’s big match.
Even if he wasn’t to start, Sexton would have been running the token opposition for training, functioning as a copy of Nick Evans, Harlequins’ number 10. This is a crucial job in the organisation of Leinster’s starting side. All their defensive and attacking plays would be run against this Harlequins imitation 15 and the better this opposition performs, the greater Leinster’s chances.
Leinster will also be nursing bruised egos after their 22-5 defeat at the hands of their bitterest rivals, Munster. The squad could react in one of two ways. They could disappear into their shells or come out fighting, wanting to prove Saturday’s loss was not a true reflection of the quality their squad. A win tomorrow offers the possibility of meeting Munster in Croke Park and a chance to avenge their back-to-back losses against their rivals. That is some incentive.
Two massive positives will boost Leinster. Speculation regarding the future of Rocky Elsom appears to be coming to an end and indications are the big Australian back-row has rejected approaches to return to Australia. His presence has made a huge impact in Leinster and a commitment to another year would lift everybody at Leinster.
We will also see the return of the immense Brian O’Driscoll tomorrow. The Irish captain has been is supreme form and his absence last Saturday had a huge impact. It is fantastic to see him back at his best and he has the capability to turn any match.
Leinster’s preparations haven’t been ideal. However this could ease the expectation heaped upon them by the media and their fans. I believe all the negatives and the return of O’Driscoll will strengthen the resolve of the squad for the trip to London. Leinster will be aware of the result earlier in the day. Payback in Croke Park could be a massive motivation.
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