Girvan Dempsey believes Rob Kearney is poised to return to something like the form of old now that the Leinster and Ireland full-back finally appears to have put a prolonged period of injury frustration behind him.
A two-time Lions tourist, Kearney endured a season haunted by injury last time out, and it ended with a hamstring injury that ruled him out of Ireland’s summer tour to South Africa.
Looking back, that may well have been a blessing in disguise.
Kearney gets to start afresh tonight, alongside Cian Healy and Mike McCarthy, two other Ireland internationals returning to the paddock after respective injury torments, as Leinster open their Guinness PRO12 account at home to Benetton Treviso.
“He’s like a new player,” said Dempsey, Leinster’s attack coach.
“He is training really well and he is excited. You could see it last weekend (against Bath in a friendly). Like Cian, he is itching to get out on the field. He looks really mobile and he’s delighted to be back in the fold.”
The experience of that trio will be buttressed by the presence of South African Zane Kirchner on the wing but, with the majority of Joe Schmidt’s Ireland contingent yet to complete their delayed pre-season work, Leinster will also look to youth against the Italians.
Dan Leavy has earned the nod at number eight, Ross Molony gets to build on last season’s breakthrough in the back row, Bryan Byrne starts at hooker and the greenest of them all will be 21-year old Joey Carbery at out-half.
With Ian Madigan turning out for Bordeaux in the Top 14, Leinster need the likes of Carbery and Cathal Marsh to step up to the plate and prove that they have what it takes to fill Jonathan Sexton’s boots when international duties and/or injury dictate it.
“We’re aware of that,” said Dempsey. “Our three 10s have gone really well and now is a chance to step up. Joey has shown really good form in the three pre-season games. He has got an all-round skillset, he’s an exciting footballer and he reads the game really well.”
Leo Cullen saw fit to use 37 players in those three pre- season fixtures but Dempsey differed with the assertion the unit chosen for this evening amounts to something of an experimental one. It is, he said, the best team they have available to them.
Which amounts to the same thing.
The presence on the bench of Mike Ross and Jordi Murphy is perhaps proof the IRFU is now taking a more flexible and individualised approach to the use of the national players through the season but it is the introduction of Jamison Gibson-Park that will elicit most interest.
A summer arrival from a Hurricanes side that played plenty of exciting rugby, his input will surely help Leinster’s league and European ambitions after some of the stultifying attacking rugby they produced last year.
Treviso, too, are said to be in the process of revamping their attacking approach. It may well be entertaining so as Leinster open their league account at home for the first time in years. Start as you mean to go on and all that.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, N Reid, F McFadden; J Carbery; C Healy, B Byrne, M Bent; R Molony, M McCarthy; D Ryan, J van der Flier, D Leavy.
BENETTON TREVISO: J Hayward; A Esposito, T Benvenuti, L McLean, A Buondonno; T Allan, G Bronzini; N Quaglio, O Gega, S Ferrari; M Fuser, F Paulo; F Minto, M Lazzaroni, A Zanni.
Referee: B Whitehouse (WRU).
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