LEINSTER WILL MONITOR the fitness of a number of senior players as the clock ticks towards Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final meeting with La Rochelle.
The province used Saturday’s Rainbow Cup defeat to Munster to welcome back long-term absentees Garry Ringrose and James Ryan, although Caelan Doris – who last played in January – was withdrawn from the starting team after pulling up with a calf injury during Friday’s Captain’s Run.
Ciarán Frawley was pulled from the bench due to a hamstring complaint. Scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park also missed the game and remains a doubt.
Harry Byrne then limped off five minutes into the game with his own hamstring issue. The young out-half’s availability becomes more pressing when you take into account Johnny Sexton’s potential absence next weekend. The Leinster captain has been stood down due to a series of head injuries this year, with no time frame on his return.
Speaking after Saturday’s game, head coach Leo Cullen couldn’t confirm if Sexton will be ready to line out come Sunday evening.
“We’ll see,” Cullen said. “We’ll do the full array of tests and he’ll see whoever he needs to see and we’ll see how he comes through the week.
“A bit more difficult certainly for Caelan (to miss out). It would have been good to get him any game time really, just to see where he’s at but, again, we’ll see how he turns that calf around. He’s trained over the last number of weeks which is the positive piece with him. He was raring to go so that’s just the way it played out.
“Jamison, we’re just being conservative with him. It’s whether you take the step on any given week so that’s kind of the dilemma that we’re on, so obviously the longer we leave him, the better he’ll be but it’s just whether we’re willing to take a chance or not. So we’ll manage him appropriately over the course of the week.”
Ringrose and Ryan both lasted an hour against Munster and Cullen felt they had shown enough to come into contention for the meeting with Ronan O’Gara’s La Rochelle, who enjoyed a weekend off after their Top14 meeting with Brive was called off due to cases of Covid in the Brive camp.
“I thought they’ve been good this week,” Cullen said.
Garry Ringrose returned from injury against Munster. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO
“We’ll wait and see how everyone has pulled through and make some calls over the course of the next few days as to what we think is best for the challenge of La Rochelle.
“Obviously their game got called off. They were due to face Brive this weekend so we’ll have a look back again at them and make some calls but we have a lot of tight calls across the group, but it’s good to have two players of their experience and calibre coming back into the mix at this time of year, which is a positive because off the back of the Six Nations and the run of games we had.
“We definitely had a lengthy injury list so it’s good to have a couple of guys coming back into the mix now.”
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After watching his players ship 27 points to Munster, Cullen accepted his team were a clear second best and admitted the Rainbow Cup – which has yet to offer a clear fixture list beyond the opening three rounds of games – presents a strange proposition at this time of the season.
On one front, Leinster are gearing up for their biggest game of the season. At the same time, the Rainbow Cup represents the start of a brand new tournament, even if it’s hard to see it as anything more as the Pro14 Mark II.
“It’s such a unique challenge this year,” Cullen added.
“You’re starting from scratch. One tournament ends and we’re sort of coming to the real serious part of another tournament and then another one begins so there’s definitely a challenge within that.