Leinster look to fine-tune in time for Croker cracker

LEINSTER remain confident that Rob Kearney will be available for next weekend’s Heineken Cup semi-final against Munster.

The newly-minted British and Irish Lion misses today’s Magners League tie against the Glasgow Warriors at the RDS through illness, while Leo Cullen’s place on the replacements bench has been described as purely rotational.

Girvan Dempsey will assume Kearney’s number 15 jersey against the Scots with Devin Toner deputising for Cullen. Just like his counterpart Tony McGahan, Michael Cheika has opted to give most of his first-choice players one last run-out tonight prior to Croke Park.

The province’s other three Lions — Brian O’Driscoll, Luke Fitzgerald and Jamie Heaslip — all start a game which means little in the context of the Magners League itself but which is nonetheless a crucial building block for the game in seven days’ time.

The ho-hum nature of tonight’s fixture was signposted by Bernard Jackman earlier in the week when the hooker said what everyone was admitting that the league title was now beyond Leinster.

Eleven points behind Munster prior to kick-off in Thomond Park last night, Cheika’s side will be hoping that tonight’s encounter can deliver a performance that suggests bigger things to come against their southern brethren.

“We have to treat it as a must-win game anyway with the (Munster) game that is coming up,” said Sean O’Brien, who will start on the bench. “We have to go out and perform whether the league is gone or not. We have to stand up and fight hard for a win.”

Leinster have been more rugged than riveting this season but the doggedness that squeezed them past Harlequins in the European quarter-final was replaced by a mere token resistance during last week’s defeat in Edinburgh.

Cheika will want to see a leap in urgency, commitment, focus and fluency against Glasgow, something positive to take into the start of what will be the defining week in his coaching career thus far.

“We didn’t do ourselves any favours in Edinburgh so we have to make sure we keep our morale high as a group,” said Isa Nacewa. “We know that the game against Munster is going to be one of the biggest games in most guys’ careers so we’ve got to keep a level head and take it one week at a time.

“Glasgow are coming down here to do a job so we have to be on top of our game.”

Whatever transpires tonight, it will hardly shift the rapidly solidifying perception that next weekend’s tie is Munster’s to lose. Form, not to mention, this season’s two Magners League head-to-heads, point to such a conclusion.

Munster claimed serious bragging rights last September with an 18-0 victory at the RDS and ran out comfortable winners at Thomond Park earlier this month when only a late Gordon D’Arcy try prevented another blue whitewash.

O’Brien, however, believes the gap between the sides isn’t as big as some may think.

“The second game was a very physical game, from both sides, and I don’t think we were lacking in physicality or anything like that. Maybe it was a bit of composure at times. I thought we were well in it and, if small things had gone our way, it might have been a different story.

“I don’t think there was a massive difference between the sides that day.”


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