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Dublin: 8 °C Saturday 29 February, 2020

Henshaw back in the selection picture for Champions Cup semi-final

The centre took part in Leinster’s pre-match warm-up last Saturday.

Henshaw has been sidelined since February.
Henshaw has been sidelined since February.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THE SELECTION PICTURE will become a little clearer later today, but as Leinster gear up towards their seismic Champions Cup semi-final with Scarlets, the fitness of a number of key players holds a wider significance for the province’s team-sheet.

Leo Cullen is still sweating over the availability of Luke McGrath, who hasn’t trained since hobbling off against Saracens and was wearing a protective boot on his ankle up until early last week.

An update on his progress is expected this afternoon, and the Leinster injury bulletin will also have news on Sean O’Brien’s condition after he lasted just 40 minutes in his comeback game against Benetton on Saturday.

The positive, however, is that Robbie Henshaw is likely to come back into contention for Scarlets at the Aviva Stadium this Saturday [KO 3.30pm, Sky Sports] after making good progress in his rehabilitation from the dislocated shoulder sustained in February.

Henshaw suffered the injury in the act of scoring against Italy on the second weekend of the Six Nations but took a full part in Leinster’s warm-up last Saturday evening.

“He was running around there, so he’s getting closer,” Cullen said. “The hope is that he trains this week. It was good to get him back for the match-day warm-up. He did a good bit of training last week, he’s getting closer.”

If Henshaw was to prove his fitness, and come through contact on that shoulder in squad training, his return could also have wider implications for Cullen’s selection, with Isa Nacewa partnering Garry Ringrose in midfield for the quarter-final win over Sarries.

Nacewa, who has been given the last two weeks off, may be required on the wing should McGrath fail to shake off his ankle problem and Cullen is forced to leave James Lowe out because of the two-from-three selection ruling regarding overseas players.

All of this, of course, is hypothetical thinking, the type of conversations Cullen and Stuart Lancaster have no doubt spent the weekend having as they prepare their side for a season-defining showdown.

Luke McGrath Luke McGrath is Leinster's main injury concern. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Cullen said McGrath was ‘touch and go’ to be fit for Scarlets last Friday and while the selection law has magnified the importance of his availability, the scrum-half’s form — which has been consistently excellent all season — is key to this Leinster team hitting top gear.

If he fails to come through, it’s likely Jamison Gibson-Park will deputise despite a less than convincing performance against Benetton with Nick McCarthy providing the scrum-half cover from the bench.

That would mean Cullen would have to select between Lowe and Scott Fardy, with the latter now expected to be required in the back row again after O’Brien’s latest setback and injuries to Rhys Ruddock, Jack Conan and Josh van der Flier.

The hope was that O’Brien would get valuable minutes under his belt last Saturday evening and after another good week of training, be fully fit to be unleashed against Scarlets, but he was withdrawn at half-time reporting soreness in his shoulder.

“We’ll see how he comes through,” Cullen says. “He was ok. He could have gone back out.”

Ruddock aggravated the hamstring injury which kept him out since December when making a late appearance against Saracens and is a major doubt for this weekend, as is Conan who suffered knee damage in the Pro14 game against Ospreys last month.

If Fardy is again named at six, with Dan Leavy at openside and Jordi Murphy in the number eight jersey, that would mean Devin Toner will partner James Ryan in the second row again, with the front row picking itself.

Scott Fardy Scott Fardy could be needed in the back row again. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

Barry Daly has impressed over the last two weeks against Italian opposition and could come into contention for a place on the bench — or a starting berth if the situation demands — while Jordan Larmour is again pushing for selection after making his injury comeback against Benetton.

Rob Kearney and Johnny Sexton come back in after being given the last fortnight to rest up and wrap themselves in cotton wool.

The only other injury reported from the shock defeat to Kieran Crowley’s side was the head knock suffered by Rory O’Loughlin, who will now go through the return to play protocols.

Tom Daly, meanwhile, made his long-awaited return from an ACL injury he suffered in pre-season, playing 40 minutes for Lansdowne in their Ulster Bank League clash with Buccaneers on Saturday.

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Ryan Bailey

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