LEINSTER HEAD COACH Joe Schmidt had some cause for optimisim after ending 2012 on a positive note last night.
The New Zealander watched his young team get back to winning ways with a 17-0 victory over Connacht at the RDS thanks to tries from Ian Madigan and replacement Jack McGrath.
It hasn’t been the best of times of late for the province who suffered defeats to Ulster and Clermont Auvergne (twice) in the past month, but with several of his big names set to return in the coming weeks, Schmidt believes it’s an “exciting time”.
On last night’s game, Schmidt said: “They (Connacht) always make us work really hard. There’s a bit of respect between the two teams but there’s also a bit of animosity.
“There’s a lot of guys in the Connacht side who are from Leinster so there’s a close connection. There was little bit of added fierceness around the contact area and disappointingly there was a little bit of gamesmanship off the ball that we’ll have a look at.
It gives us a bit of confidence and also challenges the players who are coming back from injury and who didn’t play tonight. It challenges them because some of the young guys delivered and I think that’s the strength of our squad in recent years.
“The young guys have really pushed the older guys on and we’ve mixed and matched the teams. It makes for a positive headache as opposed to some pretty tough headaches that we’ve had where we’ve gone to the sub academy to find players that are fit to play for us.”
Brian O’Dricoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald have all missed large chunks of the season but are back in training ahead of the Pro12 meeting with Edinburgh on January 4.
“All those guys will train fully this week,” he added. “Brian is making really good progress, he’s been running well and did the national camp recentls, as did Rob Kearney so those two have come through that really well. Luke Fitzgerald could be available next weekend all going well in training.
Dave Kearney and Eoin O’Malley are getting there or thereabouts as well. It’s an exciting time as it starts to offer some variety and selection.”
Shane Jenning was due to captain Leinster last night but pulled out of the XV at the last moment due to illness. While it isn’t serious, Schmidt said it was best not to risk the Ireland flanker.
“Shane was a little bit nauseous and had a little bit of a bug but felt a little bit better today. He decided to do a bit of a fitness test at the warm-up but unfortunately he just wasn’t up to playing. It was disappointing to lose Jenno on the day.”