Leinster won’t contemplate carrying any passengers for sentimental reasons in this Saturday’s Guinness PRO14 final but signs are that they will welcome back at least three influential leaders from injury for the showdown with Scarlets.
Leinster v Scarlets
Guinness PRO14 final
Saturday: Aviva Stadium, 6pm
TV: TG4, Sky Sports
Betting: Leinster 1/5,
Scarlets 100/30, Draw 20/1
Isa Nacewa, who played for 40 minutes, and Jonathan Sexton and Dan Leavy who sat out the semi-final defeat of Munster, are all expected to feature at the Aviva Stadium. Sexton was recovering from a calf issues and Leavy a tight hamstring.
Rob Kearney, rested against Munster, will be available too.
The word on Robbie Henshaw, struggling with a knee injury suffered during the Champions Cup final win against Racing 92 two weekends ago, is less clear but the fact that the centre is still a possibility seems encouraging given the initial diagnosis.
For Nacewa, at least, it will be a case of playing through the pain.
Kiwi winger James Lowe spoke after the Munster game about how his compatriot has effectively been playing ‘on one leg’ due to a long-standing knee issue but there are no tomorrows for the club captain to consider.
Retirement beckons, whatever happens, come Saturday evening.
“He’s not worried about anything but this game,” said forwards coach John Fogarty. “For the performance of the team it’s really important that we have bodies who are able to offer on the day.
“We’re hopeful he can get through the week and that he can get on the field.
The same can be said of Leinster to a man.
No side from what is now the PRO14 has ever done the ‘domestic’/European double. Even the great Leinster team that claimed three Heineken Cups in four seasons twice lost the ‘Celtic’ decider having already claimed continental honours.
This year’s vintage looked unbeatable in dismantling the challenges of Saracens and Scarlets in the knockout stages of the Champions Cup but they have had to grind out less sublime victories against Racing and Munster since.
It may be that they have peaked already although the fact that they saw off their provincial rivals on the back of a week interrupted by the events in Bilbao and the celebrations that followed is testament in itself to their mental resolve.
John Fogarty: ‘In the Munster game, it was impressive how the lads got together.’ Picture: Gary Carr/Inpho
Racing and Munster have to be commended for their parts in Leinster’s stutters and Scarlets can look for further reassurance to their thoroughly convincing PRO12 semi-final defeat of Leo Cullen’s men this time last year.
Fogarty spoke of a Scarlets side coming to Dublin with “no fear”, regardless of the fact that they succumbed to a 22-point mauling when the sides last met in that Champions Cup last four clash at the same stadium in late April.
“It’s going to be white-knuckle, yeah,” said Fogarty. “I think it is. The (European) final was the final. That’s a couple of weeks ago.
“In the Munster game, it was impressive how the lads got together. “You saw that at the weekend. Some of our stuff … our maul didn’t affect the game too much. We lacked that little bit of detail but the lads together, as a group, they were very tight.
“To stick it out and come out on top gave us another little level of belief.”
The key on Saturday, as it was when the sides met five weeks ago, will be at the breakdown where Leinster’s ferocity and targeting of Tadhg Beirne negated the soon-to-be Munster player’s prodigious abilities in turning over ball.
Leinster prepped for that localised battle by making young academy flanker imitate Beirne by wearing a blue scrum cap in training.
Will Connors has had the unenviable role as well but Fogarty is adamant that same again simply won’t suffice this weekend, “It was important, but I don’t think we were high-fiving after the game,” he explained.
“There is a certain amount of relief when you put something together and then you watch it unfold and get rewarded for it.
“If we were to approach the game now in our heads and think that, ‘right, we’ve got to get our carry right, the same format, the same template’, if we think we just have to rock up and get this done then we’ll come undone.”
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