LEINSTER hope to have learned a lesson about flogging a dead horse as they prepare for the opening Heineken Cup game of the season against Racing Metro at the RDS today (1.30pm).
For the second successive season, Leinster are blessed with a home match first up but they’re very conscious of having to allow for a necessary recovery, following the last build-up fixture against arch Irish rivals Munster.
Forwards coach Jono Gibbes and winger Luke Fitzgerald agreed it would take one huge performance to see them safely through against the French Top 14 leaders.
Therefore, they say, preparations had to be perfect based on the side’s flunking in an opening home match against London Irish last season; again a week after a successful confrontation with Munster.
Tuesday is normally the big training day, but head coach Joe Schmidt agreed with Gibbes and the players that they should take a less aggressive course of training on the day.
“We didn’t force the recovery for Tuesday,” said Gibbes. “The boys really emptied the tank on Saturday. Last year against Irish we came in after the Munster game on Monday and we used Tuesday as our big work day and when we got to Saturday we were flat.”
Fitzgerald hopes Leinster will reap the benefits from this pragmatic approach and, indeed, from the physicality of the Munster game.
“Look, the Heineken Cup is a real step up, so playing one of the top sides in the Magners League is a real benefit in the preparation it gives you.
“I feel that tweaking the recovery period after a big game is really clever because you would be tired, especially with all the hype around a Munster game which can be mentally draining. It was important that we took that extra time to recover; everyone is really fresh and raring to go and hopefully it will pay off.”
Fitzgerald is happy with his personal progress following his return from injury four weeks ago although he admitted it has been tough. “The two pre-season matches were a real shock to the system. No matter how long you’re training and no matter how much preparation you put in, you can’t simulate match situations in training.
“I am glad to be past that stage. I am feeling more comfortable and I am spotting more opportunities on the pitch. I probably feel that I need to get more involvement in the game out on the wing which I am not doing; that’s an area I would like to improve.”
One guy he hopes won’t improve is Racing’s talisman Sebastian Chabal, of whom Fitzgerald is a reluctant fan.
“Yeah, he is a quality player although I suppose he possibly gets a big more noticed ‘cause of the beard and stuff, he stands out a bit more but certainly he is someone we have to look to target. If we give him ground, he will take it and put them (Racing) on the front foot. We’ll be trying to get into his face and, well, basically, put him back on his arse.”
Gibbes has a different take on Chabal, whom Munster targeted so successfully at Thomond Park a few seasons ago when he was playing for Sale Sharks.
“No doubt, he is a great player and Munster were brilliant in keeping him under control. The thing was, I don’t think Sale had seven other massive dudes to do it for them. Munster proved to be very smart by saying they would target the guy and that the rest should fall into place, as it did.
“Racing Metro, from what I have seen of them, can move the point of attack away from one guy, so it’s important for us to recognise that it could really come from anywhere.”
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