BRIAN O’DRISCOLL, Shane Jennings and Jonathan Sexton have all been named in the Leinster side to face Cardiff Blues tomorrow evening, as the drip-feed return of internationals continues.
Joe Schmidt has named Mike Ross at tighthead, while Cian Healy and Eoin Reddan are on the bench. Flanker Dominic Ryan drops to the bench with Eoin O’Malley, while Niall Morris misses out completely.
New coach Schmidt admitted yesterday that he is finding the player management scheme, which has prevented him from using all of his Ireland stars, frustrating and challenging.
The disrupted pre-season has meant Leinster have focused on basics thus far in training, but the New Zealander is hoping the return of the experienced trio can get Leinster off to a winning start at home after last week’s defeat to Glasgow.
“It is frustrating,” he said. “But it’s also part of the challenge. How effective can I be in getting a team ready who haven’t had a run together as a group before this week?
“It’s not like Jonny Sexton hasn’t played with Fergus McFadden and Brian O’Driscoll before, with Shaggy (Shane Horgan) and Isa (Nacewa) on the wings and Luke Fitzgerald at fullback.
“Inevitably, it’s about re-gelling a few combinations and it’s been as simple as that. We’re not trying anything fancy, we’re just trying to get guys playing with each other again and hopefully we’ll develop our own style once we get some continuity.
“We’re trying to transition them in so that they don’t all come in at the same time and upset the team. We’re trying to transition them in so they play a little less than the full match.
“They might play 40 or 60 minutes and that’s the preference for the player welfare programme and we try and abide by that. Also, if a player is in a strength and conditioning programme it is hard to take him out of that and put him in without any skill work or rugby-specific work and throw them into a playing situation – as good as these players are.”
After a career mostly based in New Zealand and France, Schmidt admits his knowledge of Magners League sides is currently lacking.
And although Cardiff come with some familiar faces from home, the former Clermont Auvergne backs coach is relying on his players for advice on how the Blues play.
“One of the things that is difficult for me is that we don’t have a lot of footage of the teams from this year,” he explained.
“Cardiff play how they play and there is a bit of stuff from last year that I have looked at. They have only played one game, we’ve had a look at their pre-season games.
“So the guys on the team know more about the teams that we play than I do. So it’s very much a co-operative deal in how we try and combat what they bring and how we try and impose our game and deliver.
“I know a few of their players fairly well, mainly because half of them are Kiwis. Guys like Paul Tito who is a very smart strategist, especially at lineouts and he is a really good leader as well. He’s a really competitive man, even when you’re playing cards.
“There are plenty of things we will have our hands full with on Saturday night.”
Despite having a limited amount of time to work with his players, Schmidt has been impressed by his fly-half Sexton.
“I have found him a top professional and a really talented young man,” he said. “I’ve only worked this week with Jonny on a one-to-one basis because he has been outside the rugby programme, so to speak. I really like the way he is open and open to give feedback himself, to try new things and to determine whether or not that would fit for him.”
LEINSTER (vs Cardiff Blues): L Fitzgerald; S Horgan, B O’Driscoll, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; N Hines, E O’Donogue; S O’Brien, S Jennings (capt), J Heaslip.
Replacements: J Fogarty, C Healy, S Shawe, M Galarza, D Ryan, E Reddan, I Madigan, E O’Malley.
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