Joe Schmidt gets his first chance today to run the rule over the Leinster fringe players who will steer him through the early stages of the RaboDirect Pro12 campaign when they meet Gloucester in a friendly at Tallaght Stadium (5pm).
With Leinster’s contingent of internationals on a separate pre-season conditioning programme, the majority of the province’s frontline players will not be seen in action until the RaboDirect Pro12 season is well under way, while others such as Luke Fitzgerald, Sean O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock, Dave Kearney and Eoin O’Malley will not be back on the field until at least November, with Fitzgerald out until the end of the year and possibly January.
Shane Jennings leads a side that includes new signing Tom Denton at lock alongside Damian Browne and a fly-half combination in John Cooney and Ian Madigan that may well see plenty of league action in the absence of Isaac Boss, Eoin Reddan and Jonny Sexton, whose playing time will be restricted under the IRFU’s player management programme.
That also opens the door for utility backs Noel Reid, who starts today’s pre-season friendly against the Cherry and Whites at inside centre, and new signing Andrew Goodman.
While the ongoing conditioning of his players is the primary focus for Schmidt, the New Zealander will also be keeping a close eye on how his combinations are bedding in.
“At 10, we have limitations around how many times we can utilise Jon Sexton in that role and Ian Madigan was involved in 30-odd games last year so we’ve also got to balance that workload. That’s why Andrew Goodman and Noel Reid will be able to share some of that workload a little bit.
“At 12, we’ve got Gordon D’Arcy, Brian O’Driscoll and Fergus McFadden, who all play in that position and therefore we need cover in that spot as well. So those three can deputise at 10 or 12 and I challenge them to step up and try to take those spots.”
Of the non-injured frontline players, Schmidt said they were fit and mentally fresh after a 2011/12 season which started in late July and did not end until this summer’s tour to New Zealand.
Not least Ireland captain O’Driscoll, who carried his injured torso through the World Cup before missing much of Leinster’s campaign following shoulder surgery.
“He’s in a lot better shape than this time last year because he wasn’t available to us,” Schmidt said.
“He’s in great shape right at the moment because I’ve just thrashed them all on the field today so they’re all in pieces. It was a nice hot day and he kind of melted into the training track.
“But he was fully equipped to do the whole session and that would give some indication that he’s in pretty good condition.”
LEINSTER: D Hudson; A Boyle, C O’Shea, N Reid, F Carr; I Madigan, J Cooney; J McGrath, A Dundon, J Hagan; D Browne, T Denton; B Marshall, S Jennings (capt), L Auva’a.
Replacements: T Sexton, J O’Connell, M Moore, J Murphy, D Ryan, L McGrath, C Marsh, S Coghlan-Murray, J Tracy, B Macken.
GLOUCESTER: R Cook; S Monahan, T Molenaar, B Twelvetrees, I Clark; T Taylor, D Lewis; Y Thomas, D Dawidiuk, S Knight; T Savage, A Brown (capt); P Buxton, A Hazell, S Kalamafoni.
Replacements: K Britton, D Murphy, D Chistolini, W James, R Langley, G Evans, D Robson, M Thomas, J Simpson-Daniel, M Tindall.
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU).
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