Leinster bank on strength in depth

This is Cian Healy’s seventh season knocking around the Leinster dressing-room and the Ireland prop can’t remember the province’s squad being stronger or deeper than it is now.

That must be a reassuring in a week such as this which will end on Sunday against Clermont Auvergne whose unbeaten record at Stade Marcel Michelin has now reached the half-century mark.

However, Brian O’Driscoll will play no part in this upcoming back-to-back against Clermont. Neither will Rob Kearney or Luke Fitzgerald while Eoin O’Malley and Dave Kearney are operating at less than full power in training this week.

The situation amongst the forwards makes for better reading. South African second row Quinn Roux is the only confirmed absentee there and such is Joe Schmidt’s embarrassment of riches in the front row that he will stock that department with six internationals come game day.

“We have great depth in the front row department now,” Healy agreed. “We have all sorts of players coming through. Jack (McGrath) is there as well, Marty Moore and Jamie Hagan at tighthead as well so we are prepped for all elements. You know you can empty the tank when there is quality there.

“It has been working well with Heinke (van der Merwe) and myself so far. We have gotten to a level of understanding of where we push ourselves and it is quite good for the squad to have players who can go all out, not trying to save a single thing. You can put your feet up after.”

Few European teams can match Leinster when it comes to harmonising the quality and quantity of their player pool but Clermont Auvergne are one of them and last week’s Top 14 assignment in Toulouse highlighted it again.

Cotter’s bench in the south of France last Saturday was made up of six internationals, four of them French, one of the best out-halves in the continent in Brock James and Ludovic Radosavljevic, the young scrum-half from Aix-en-Provence.

It’s a positively greedy hoarding of talent and one that has helped ‘Les Jaunards’ sprint to the fore in Pool Four after convincing defeats of the Scarlets at home and, more pertinently, Exeter Chiefs on England’s south coast.

It’s a backstory that, added up, will see Leinster start in the unfamiliar role of underdogs this weekend. But Healy isn’t for engaging with talk of a losing bonus point this week and a winning quartet of them seven days later.

“First thing you do is target a win. Anything after that is just an add-on. We are looking for a performance as well. We want to be top of our game and really play well. It is good with everyone coming back together and people back from injury. To get that big performance would be great.”

Leinster know they have it in them. Meetings with Clermont have become a perennial affair and somehow Leinster have managed to eke out the victories in most of them. Most notable, of course, was last season’s semi-final in Bordeaux.

Healy has watched parts of that again but only to swat up on the scrums. Leaning on nostalgia isn’t something he is keen on but he does admit that their ding-dongs with the French side give the province a solid base layer from which to launch this latest all-in.

“Yeah, it is good because you know what you need to bring to it and you know what it is going to take because it is not something that comes easy, playing against them or in the Heineken Cup. The lads know they are going to have to go to the well this week and really dig it out.”


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