Joe Schmidt has admitted Leinster’s preparations have been far from ideal for today’s Heineken Cup final but revealed Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney et al are fit to face Ulster in Twickenham.
The two backs have been hampered by a back and knee injury respectively since late last week but the Leinster coach confirmed yesterday afternoon that the Ireland captain was available and that the full-back was “pretty much 100%”.
“Brian trained fully yesterday and trained well,” said the Kiwi. “We didn’t train him today, as you will have seen out on the pitch, but he is in good shape and will play. Rob did have a run and is feeling pretty confident.
“We are confident he will be out there. It’s pretty much 100% those two guys will be playing.”
Isaac Boss was another to take it easy at the RFU’s HQ during Leinster’s captain’s run but Schmidt described that as precautionary and a result of niggles picked up by some players during last week’s intensive runout against Glasgow Warriors.
“The preparation hasn’t been ideal but let’s hope the performance can be,” said Schmidt who named the expected 15 with Kevin McLaughlin and Eoin Reddan ahead of Boss and Shane Jennings.
Brian McLaughlin had earlier confirmed Chris Henry’s shin injury had cleared up and the open side flanker joins tight head prop John Afoa in returning the side that saw off Edinburgh in the semi-final.
For Ulster, all this is new but they bring vast experience from other theatres and Leinster showed last year there is no guarantee a team used to this sort of stage won’t cock up when they return. The reigning champions trailed Northampton 22-6 at the interval in the Millennium Stadium 12 months ago and were about to receive the last rites before rebounding and Schmidt believes it is the side that ignores the hype and hoopla that will pull through today.
“The occasion can sometimes dominate the performance and it is important we remain grounded and not get carried away with the occasion,” he explained. “Last year’s final against Northampton, I felt we tried a bit too hard. We tried to force a couple of passes and offloads we shouldn’t have and Northampton did a good job of undoing us as well.”
Experience may well abound but one man short on it is Ulster’s out-half Paddy Jackson, the baby of today’s final who has played just 15 times for his province and whose sole European start came in the semi-final against Edinburgh. It would be folly for Leinster’s if they didn’t target such a greenhorn even if Leo Cullen won’t admit it.
“I know his cousin very well, Michael Jackson. Not the Michael Jackson,” Cullen stressed. “He has been telling me for years how good this kid is and he looks like a really capable guy. I haven’t seen that much of him but he looks like he is going to be a very exciting player.”
A diplomatic response but the gloves come off today.
Follow Leinster's exertions against Ulster on our live Heineken Cup blog from London at 4pm tomorrow. It will be epic.
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