THE ST STEPHEN’S DAY training session will give Joe Schmidt a clear indication if he can welcome back a quarter of experienced players.
The Leinster coach is hopeful that his side will emerge from a bleak four months of squad casualties and get their season back on track.
“Hopefully we’ll be in a position to welcome back Luke (Fitzgerald), Eoin (O’Malley), Dave (Kearney) and Shane (Jennings) either this week or next,” Schmidt told TheScore.ie.
“It was also good to get Rob (Kearney) and Brian (O’Driscoll) back on the field as they step up their respective programmes so.
“With a number of internationals set to be rested this weekend that presents some of the younger members of the panel with a further opportunity to gain experience that will hopefully add value to their development.”
Schmidt will be conscious of facing a fired-up Connacht and will retain an experienced spine with Isaac Boss, Sean Cronin and Kevin McLaughlin likely to start.
The westerners were extremely upset when it emerged Mike McCarthy would be joining the blues, from Connacht, next summer and Eric Elwood will have his players stoked for the game.
Leinster’s losing streak now stands at three games but they were up against two of Europe’s form teams, Clermont and Ulster, in recent weeks.
“We played well in parts of the Ulster game and it was frustrating not to get something for our efforts,” said Schmidt.
“We have had a look at the game and we are disappointed with aspects of our performance, especially as we knew that Ulster would be very tough to beat.
“But we also know that we’ve got to move on quickly and salvage as much as we can from the Christmas period.”
Schmidt acknowledges that an “improving” Connacht will be hard to beat, despite their 16-12 loss to Munster at the weekend.
He said, “They have recruited well, including a number of players we know well, and will look to dominate and to be as combative as they were in their win over us earlier in the season.
We know from personal experience how good they can be and they’ll be disappointed that they didn’t make the most of their opportunities against Munster, especially when George Naupou crossed the line late in the game.
“They’ll be frustrated by that and motivated by it as well so there is no doubt about how committed and passionate they will be.
Schmidt added, “These interprovincial games around the Christmas period are great for players and supporters alike and it looks like we’re going to have another big crowd which is fantastic.
“The atmosphere will be charged and I know that the players are excited about getting back to playing in the RDS for the first time in a while.”