Leinster flew out for South Africa via Paris last night with forwards coach John Fogarty warning that they will have to roll with the punches off the field long before they step inside the white lines.
Leo Cullen’s side and Zebre will make history this weekend when they face the Southern Kings and Cheetahs respectively but they will be following itineraries hastily patched together after the two South African franchises were embraced by the old Celtic League.
Leinster’s two-game trip will involve stints in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein before the 28-man squad and a dozen backroom staff return in as many as three different parties 12 days later.
It is unlikely to be all smooth sailing.
“It’s not always perfect,” said Fogarty. “When you go away from home, there’s things that can go wrong. The bus can be late, this, that and the other, and you see some people getting ruffled and upset.
“For me, I don’t get upset when that happens. Chaos can appear from anywhere and so you tend to just sit back and let it happen.”
Other Guinness Pro14 clubs have already been festooning Leinster with queries as to the logistics and, no doubt, the costs involved but the process of choosing just the 28 players allowed to travel under rule has been every bit as difficult.
Leinster have departed devoid of their five British and Irish Lions, as well as Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney, Garry Ringrose, and Dan Leavy. All — and more — are injured. Also staying at home are locks Devin Toner and Scott Fardy whose wives are expecting their first children in the coming weeks.
Cullen will have the use of Ross Molony, James Ryan and Mick Kearney as second row options but he will be keeping his fingers crossed that none of that trio come a cropper as there is no allowance for replacements to be flown in.
The squad is split between 15 forwards and 13 backs with only two recognised nines in Luke McGrath and Jamison Gibson-Park. Isa Nacewa, used at scrum-half briefly last year and already deputising at centre this term, may need his full bag of tricks yet again.
“When you have to bring 28 players, they all have to add value when they are out there,” said Fogarty. “You need to make sure from an S&C point of view, from a medical point of view, he’s 100% and good to go, that he can last two weeks and two games.”
The Kings and Cheetahs were effectively stuffed in rounds one and two up north but Munster’s Rassie Erasmus has stated that both will be different propositions at home and the lopsided results haven’t diminished Leinster’s anticipation for the weeks ahead.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for them,” said Fogarty. “It really, really has. There is huge excitement to play against any of the South African teams or Super sides. You are always up.
“The whole week you’ll be saying ‘this is great.’
“We are going to test ourselves against a Super rugby team.”
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