LESS THAN A week after head coach Matt O’Connor pointed out that IRFU protocols are the major impediment to Leinster bringing more world-class international talent to Ireland, team manager Guy Easterby has underlined the importance of those types of signings.
Asked whether his role in recruiting players for the province was hampered by IRFU policy at Leinster’s UCD base this afternoon, the former Ireland scrum-half explained why the Irish provinces need these kinds of additions.
“What the international players coming in bring – when you’ve got 17 players out during the international period – is that bit of experience to mix with the youthful look of the rest of the team. That’s where they really bring that extra bit.
“You can see what Isa’s [Nacewa] done, Hinesy [Nathan Hines], Rocky [Elsom], those people. It’s just that leadership from a senior player, who would normally be an Irish player, but because he’s involved in the Six Nations, they [younger players] need that sort of experienced person to help them through games.
That’s where you see the real benefit. That’s an area where we would argue that it’s important that we’re allowed to continue to recruit top quality international players, specifically for those periods.”
This season, Leinster managed to have a successful Six Nations period. Indeed, before last weekend’s defeat to the Ospreys, the eastern province had won eight consecutive Pro12 games.
Easterby admits that O’Connor’s squad managed that schedule well.
“It’s fantastic that we’ve had 17, or however many, players with Ireland. That’s what we aim at every year; we want people to be playing for Ireland. From that point of view, it’s fantastic.
“It is what it is, we’ve dealt with it in the past. We haven’t had too bad a time, so let’s hope it can continue.”
But are there more Rocky Elsom-esque signings on the way?
“I don’t know if Rocky is fit enough, but we’ll let you know if we do [make signings]!”
Meanwhile, Easterby has explained the current situation with wing Luke Fitzgerald, whose season continues to be frustrated by issues with his groin/hip region. The 26-year-old was absent last weekend and against Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
“We’re managing him on a week-to-week basis. As you’ve seen, he comes in for a week and then he’s missed a week. We’re just trying to manage the issues he’s got around his groin and his hip.
“You’re probably sick of hearing it, but we’d be hopeful that he’ll be available this week. That won’t be determined until later in the week.”
Easterby reveals that it is often Fitzgerald himself who is making the calls on whether or not his body is ready to play. Normally, such decisions are completely in the hands of the province’s medical team, but Leinster have learned to trust the Ireland international’s instincts.
He’s got something that’s niggling him. At times it feels better and then, other times, it regresses a little bit. It’s about getting that balance right between him being fit enough to play and then also making sure that he’s not going to do any long-term damage.
“A lot of it would be down to Luke; he’s a seasoned professional now. As you can tell, a couple of weeks he’s felt great and I think he’s played superbly when he has played.
“Other weeks, he’s not been quite right and we’re probably giving him the ability to manage his body. He might still be young, but he’s been a professional for a long time; he knows his body very well.”