Leinster coach matt O’Connor will mix in internationals where possible as the Pro12 champions ramp up preparations for December’s Heineken Cup double-header against Northampton.
Leinster contributed the bulk of the Ireland squad that suffered a last-gasp defeat to New Zealand on Sunday, but at least two men involved that day will suit up in blue when Llanelli visit the RDS on Saturday.
Despite starting three Tests for Joe Schmidt in November, Mike Ross will provide tighthead cover on the bench against Scarlets, while Ian Madigan will likely be handed the number 10 shirt.
“I think there was a hell of a lot of progress from the Australian result to the All Blacks result,” O’Connor said at the province’s UCD base.
“Very disappointing for everyone involved to not get the result at the end of the day but it was a pretty good performance that Ireland and Leinster can take a lot of positives from.”
Coping with the loss of key players for the greater good has long been a factor which provincial coaches in this country have had to put up with, and O’Connor certainly didn’t make a great fist at sugarcoating his thoughts on the situation.
“I never signed on to lose 20 blokes but that is the nature of it,” O’Connor said of the 18 players called up by Joe Schmidt, before suggesting that the issue will need to be changed when the new Heineken Cup format comes in next season.
“If you lose that many blokes, you just have to cope. That is the nature of the league. Meritocracy will add a new dimension to that but the guys and the squad over the last month have been outstanding.”
That ‘outstanding’ squad which helped O’Connor claim back to back wins either side of the league’s first mid-season break will again form the majority of the starting side on Saturday.
However, along with Ross and Madigan the Australian will hope to have players such as Luke Fitzgerald, Eoin Reddan, Isaac Boss and Dave Kearney back in the fold while Rob Kearney and Devin Toner rest up for the challenge of Northampton Saints around the corner.
“If you weren’t a good player, you wouldn’t be in the environment. Some of the guys in the squad don’t get that many opportunities but when you get the opportunity, it’s a massive and a huge responsibility you bear for the rest of the squad,” O’Connor said.
“Test guys away, blokes missing injured, they want the team to be in a position to win things. They understand the expectation of being in the Leinster squad.
“You’ve got to take your opportunities. It is not a development league. It is about making sure that when you pull on the shirt you do it justice and we win more than we lose.”
The lesser lights of Leinster made sure to tip that wining ratio in the right direction in their past two outings, keeping that up with competition for places increasing is the hard part.
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