Leinster taking nothing for granted as Leicester roam into view

Irish province have several selection issues in advance of last-16 showdown

Backs coach Andrew Goodman shot down the fanciful image of Leinster players dripping with gold in advance of their meeting with Leicester at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday. As the Champions Cup resumes with the last 16, Leinster intend to tread cautiously as they step into the knock-out phase.

“There’s boys that haven’t won anything yet in Leinster colours so they are really hungry to get themselves ready as best they can so they can go out and perform the way they know they can,” said Goodman after training on Monday.

Coming off a seven-try win over the Bulls, Leinster’s mood is both confident and wary of a Leicester side sprinkled with several of the English players that beat Ireland in this year’s Six Nations match in Twickenham. Frontrow Dan Cole, flanker Ollie Chessum and lock George Martin all started in England’s side.

Leinster, though, surpass the Premiership side with international talent and 14 played against the Bulls. Leinster also have players such as Jordan Larmour, Jamie Osborne and Rob Russell pushing hard for selection. Moreover, the decision over which of the Byrne brothers will start the match at outhalf remains a subplot in the Leinster camp.


“It’s the first time I’ve had it,” says Goodman of two brothers competing for the same position. “Someone at a barbecue was asking me the same question. They’ve got a good relationship. They both want to be in the 10 jersey along with Sam [Prendergast] and Frawls [Ciarán Frawley]. It’s good competition. When the team is named, and if they are both in the group, they will help each other along and help each other through the week. It must be a funny dynamic at the dinner table at home.”

With Harry starting against the Bulls last Friday as well as earning some Six Nations experience this season, the younger brother appears to have nudged ahead.

“I just think that consistency of time in the saddle,” says Goodman. “He had a pretty torrid couple of years, the year before I came and then last year. He has had a couple of little injuries but [since then has had] a lot more consistency in terms of being on the training field running the team.

“And then opportunities to start big games as well. That’s been great for him and then the opportunity to play in big games in the Six Nations because all that experience he builds up there will help us going forward as well.”

Opportunities may arise this week around the park with a number of frontline international players in a race against time with injuries.

Luke McGrath and Robbie Henshaw have both entered the graduated return to play protocols and will be assessed further in the week. Frawley (foot), Hugo Keenan (hip), Garry Ringrose (shoulder), Andrew Porter (shoulder) and Jimmy O’Brien (neck) will all be assessed.

“He’s looking sharp,” says Goodman of Larmour, who played at fullback against the Bulls. “It’s great to see him moving so well and seeing space so well and when he gets moving like that and using his step and being decisive it is great to see.

“And Rob Russell on the wing was the same, serious speed but really decisive in all his decisions, so I thought that back three [Larmour, Russell and Lowe] worked really well together on Friday night and will put pressure on us as a coaching team to consider them in the big games moving forward.”

Leinster have an impressive record against Leicester. That is a positive, although it ensures the Welford Road side will arrive with a hunger to reverse the trend as well as earn a place among the last eight teams.

“Look, 16 teams are desperate to win this competition and we’re in a final this week,” said Goodman. “We’re not looking ahead of this game because we know this is knock-out football now, so we’ve got to be at our best. They’ve got a clear DNA, they’re all so clear around how they play and attack the game.”

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times