LEINSTER COACH JOE Schmidt defended the youthful look of his pack for tomorrow’s Amlin Challenge Cup final at the RDS.
In his penultimate game in charge, Schmidt has made seven changes from last weekend’s Pro12 semi-final win over Glasgow.
The highest profile absentee is Brian O’Driscoll. On the day he confirmed he would play on for another year, the centre continued to struggle with a back spasm aggravated on Saturday.
“What we’ve committed to doing is putting people who are 100% fit onto the field. For Brian, we’ve given him as much time as possible.” said Schmidt, adding that a completed training session this morning would have sufficed for a starting berth, but O’Driscoll “couldn’t train fully today”.
Only Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip return in the pack, while injury to O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy mean Ian Madigan and Fergus McFadden will form the midfield.
“The changes are really around freshness.” Schmidt says with a clear eye upon next week’s Pro12 Grand Final against Ulster.
“The Glasgow game was very, very combative. It was attritional, and as a result of that we’ve decided to freshen things up.
“I do believe we’ve always given a fair bit of confidence to the squad. I think it’s a massive risk at this time of the year to try and play three play-off games with the same team for three weeks.
“I guess there’s always a risk in making changes. But guys like Sean O’Brien who weren’t fully fit last week, it’s great to have him coming in.”
The positive spin on Leinster squad rotation, however, is just as obvious as the threat from O’Brien. Four international forwards will take their place on the bench.
Chief among them is Cian Healy, who Schmidt stressed was free from injury an expected to make an impact.
Leinster XV v Stade Francais: R Kearney; A Conway, F McFadden, I Madigan, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss: J Mc Grath, S Cronin, M Ross; Q Roux, D Toner; R Ruddock, S O’Brien, J Heaslip.
Replacements: R Strauss, C Healy, J Hagan, L Cullen, S Jennings, J Cooney, A Goodman, D Kearney.
Stade Francais XV v Leinster: J Porical, J Sinzelle, G Doumayrou, P Williams, H Bonneval, J Plisson, J Dupuy, A De Malmanche , L Sempere, R Slimani, S Lavalla, G Mostert, D Lyons, P Rabadan, S Parisse.
Replacements: R Bonfils, S Wright, J Becasseau, A van Zyl, L Tomiki, W Vuidarvuwalu, J Arias, P Warwick.