LEINSTER HEAD COACH Matt O’Connor has admitted that his team selection for the clash with Munster on Saturday night in the Pro12 will be influenced by the Heineken Cup quarter-final away to Toulon the weekend after.
The Australian has highlighted the need to reintegrate the players who have been away with Ireland for the past 10 weeks, but says the province are unwilling to take major risks with those who are carrying injuries and niggles.
Loosehead prop Cian Healy, who has endured ankle problems all season, is chief among the concerns, although O’Connor again refused to rule him out definitively.
“He’s not too bad, he’s still a little bit sore post-Six Nations. We’ll make an assessment on that closer to the game and we’ve got a little bit of focus for what’s happening next week.
We understand how important this [Munster game] is, but we’ve got to have an eye on what’s happening next week as well. We won’t risk anyone this week, we’ll wait and see how we get on.”
While pointing out that his squad was in good shape aside from the usual “bangs and bruises,” O’Connor did concede that Jack McGrath and Marty Moore were “probably” the two other major injury worries.
“If there’s any concerns – and there’s probably two or three blokes in that category – then we’ll probably hold off and give ourselves the best chance.”
McGrath sustained a shoulder/collarbone injury against France in Paris two weekends ago, while Moore had to be replaced late in the the game against Zebre on Friday, despite having been used as a substitute himself after starting tighthead Tadhg Furlong rolled an ankle.
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The likely scenario appears to be that Moore, Furlong and McGrath will not recover in time to face Munster, leaving Leinster with a decision on whether to risk Healy, while trusting in Mike Ross [tighthead], Michael Bent [tighthead/loosehead] and Jack O’Connell [loosehead] to lead their front row for the clash with Munster.
Pressure will fall on the wide shoulders of Ross to ensure that Leinster thrive at scrum time in the Aviva Stadium.
“Tightheads are pretty important,” said O’Connor. “Rossy understands that responsibility, he’s very experienced. He was very good through the Six Nations, so we’ll be looking for him to replicate that on Saturday night.”
Otherwise, O’Connor was understandably vague in revealing which of his props will be ready to face Rob Penney’s men.
As I’ve said, there’s an eye on next week, but we need to have a fit 23/25 blokes to go to Toulon and that’s certainly in the back of our mind, while understanding how important it is this weekend and how big an occasion it is.
“We’ve just got to try and manage the bodies through that two-week period.”
Away from those front row worries, O’Connor is excited about welcoming back the international players who are fit. Rhys Ruddock’s calf issue makes him a doubt, but the rest of Ireland’s Six Nations champions are available for selection.
“The combinations are important,” said O’Connor. “The structures and systems are important because they’ve been away for a long time through that Six Nations block. To get them in, to get them training, to get them reintegrated has been a massive focus this week.
“We’ll see how good a job we’ve done on Saturday night.”