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Dublin: 11 °C Wednesday 3 June, 2020

Leinster hope to field their strongest possible hand against 'desperate' Munster

Leo Cullen’s men are now focused on defending their Pro14 crown.

AS PAINFUL AS Monday’s review would have been for Leinster, the emotional scars from Newcastle still running deep for many, the raw introspection of the team’s collective and individual failings may just have been the cathartic process required.

There is a new breed of player within the dressing room — the James Ryans, Jordan Larmours, Garry Ringroses — always questioning and probing, no matter the result or level of performance. Win or lose, the mindset remains the same. 

Tadhg Furlong speaks to the team Leinster are hoping to bounce back this weekend. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

That they slipped below those standards at pivotal junctures against Saracens will have raised many unanswered questions, but the strength of those aforementioned players is to consistently find the answers and seek ways to be better. To fix the mistakes, to simply be better rugby players.

Such a mentality and appetite to learn ensured they didn’t get carried away with the achievements of yesteryear, and similarly the hope is that this experience will galvanise the group moving forward.

In such a fast-moving environment, the page must turn quickly, leaving little time for those aforementioned wounds to heal, but that ability to compartmentalise and leave Newcastle in the rearview mirror this week while focusing on Munster is part of the new generation’s DNA. 

“The guys that we have in here at the moment are unbelievably good at dealing with huge wins and huge losses, trying to learn,” John Fogarty says. 

“They’re very specific in their chat when they come in to speak to us and they test us as coaches massively. They will want to know exactly what we can do better. They’ll take it apart. They’re designed differently. When I was that age, I needed experience to become a good player.

“They’re getting much stronger at being forensic around their game and they understand a lot around what’s happening, so we’re a good young side. We will learn from this experience.”

Leinster’s challenge this week is two-fold. Fogarty speaks of overcoming the psychological toll defeat has on a dressing room, but getting the bodies primed for a Pro14 semi-final to match Munster’s intensity and physicality is another thing entirely.  

Leo Cullen made six changes to his starting XV a week after Bilbao last year and while Leinster will look to field their strongest possible hand against Johann van Graan’s men, changes are inevitable. 

The return to fitness of both Jamison Gibson-Park and Josh van der Flier boosts options for the defending Pro14 champions, but Leinster’s team selection for Saturday afternoon will be fascinating. 

“Yeah, it’s tough for players,” scrum coach Fogarty continues. “We’ve got one game left, we lose that game, that’s it, we’re done. I think we need to be as strong as we possibly can be. Those calls will be made, we’ll put a strong as a team as we can out. We’ll need to because you listen to Munster, there are guys that are desperate to win.

“We’re desperate to win too but Billy Holland has been talking about that he’s not going to leave this place [Munster] until he gets something, until he gets a win.

Josh van der Flier Josh van der Flier could be back from injury. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“There’s that desperation to win down there, and we’ll match that desperation as well. It’s going to be a big, big battle for both teams. We’ll need to be as strong as we can be.”

Having van der Flier back ahead of schedule is a major fillip for Cullen and the openside could come back into the starting team after working hard over the last fortnight to hit the necessary comeback markers.

The 26-year-old has again shown remarkable healing powers to get back from groin surgery within the initial 12-week window.

“He looks good. He trained last week and trained well. So he looks good,” Fogarty continued.

“Again, I’d love to be able to say he is 100% back and he will be selected and starting and all that kind of stuff but the reality is, he’ll be monitored through the week and hopefully, he gets through his minutes in training and if that’s the case, he’s due to available for selection.”

In their ninth Pro14 semi-final in the last 10 years, and what is a repeat of last season’s last-four showdown at the RDS, Leinster are set to come up against a familiar face again in Joey Carbery.

The Ireland out-half appears set to make his comeback from a frustrating hamstring injury this Saturday 12 months after lining out in blue in the same fixture, with Fogarty adding: “I’m glad Joey is back in full training. What a difference a year makes, this time last year he was in a very different place. We know Joey and we look forward to dealing with him.”

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Ryan Bailey

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