Leinster started the season with 14 players who could conceivably feature in their back row and yet they badly need three of their most prominent practitioners to return to fitness in time for Sunday’s European quarter-final against Saracens.
Jamie Heaslip has retired and Josh van der Flier is a long-term absentee. Scott Fardy and Mick Kearney are employed as locks who can moonlight as flankers and another five of that 14 are greenhorns — four of them from the academy — with just 37 caps between them.
So, the province needs some good news in that department this week. They need Sean O’Brien to be passed fit after a miserable run spent rehabbing hip and shoulders injuries that has limited him to just 27 minutes since mid-December.
They need Rhys Ruddock to shake off the last dregs of the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for 16 weeks and they need Jack Conan to recover from the knock to the knee suffered on Saturday away to Ospreys.
O’Brien and Ruddock trained yesterday, Conan did not. As it is, Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy are the only fit and experienced back rows at the club with no injury cloud. Not ideal ahead of the Aviva Stadium showdown.
Dave Kearney is out after suffering a shoulder injury in Wales three days ago. So is Noel Reid, who damaged an eye socket. Fergus McFadden is going though return-to-play protocols on the back of a Head Injury Assessment at the Liberty Stadium.
Jordan Larmour had already been ruled out for three weeks with a calf injury suffered on Ireland duty, though Luke McGrath is reportedly good to go for the visit to Dublin of the English giants having returned from a knee injury against Ospreys.
Meanwhile, Saracens back Alex Lozowski believes the quarter-final will have a similar intensity to a Test match.
Speaking after Saracens’ 24-11 win over Harlequins a the weekend, Lozowski said: “It’s going to have a Test-match intensity, as often these Champions Cup matches are. Everyone wants to play in these big games and that’s why I play here.
Everyone is just massively excited for next week now. We are going to need our big players to stand up.”
Lozowski said Saracens would be in a positive mood after their successful trip across the Irish Sea last season, when they beat Munster 26-10 at Thomond Park.
“We went there and played Munster last year and got a good result, so we can take confidence from that,” he said.
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