Monday 20 November 2017

Goodman may get his chance as injury limits Blues options

LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt could be cornered into giving New Zealander Andrew Goodman his first start in the Heineken Cup at Clermont-Auvergne on Sunday.

The long-term withdrawal of Brian O'Driscoll and Rob Kearney added to the slow progress of Luke Fitzgerald back to full fitness means Schmidt faces something of a quandary at Stade Marcel Michelin.

He is further hampered by the "long shot" possibility that Eoin O'Malley will move straight from the training paddock to Heineken Cup intensity. That must be a non-runner.

The unforeseen quad injury last week to Dave Kearney, who had just returned from a serious injury, has further stretched Leinster resources, even though forwards Jamie Heaslip, Richardt Strauss, Sean O'Brien and Damian Browne all trained yesterday.

"We will monitor Eoin O'Malley and Dave Kearney from a slower start this week. We'll expect to have greater clarity given a little more time where they are at later in the week," said forwards coach Jono Gibbes.

Schmidt's meticulous approach to planning will have taken all possibilities into account. The facts are that Goodman, at twelve, and Gordon D'Arcy, at outside centre, are the best options open to him.


This would leave the committed Fergus McFadden clear to man one of the wing positions opposite, say, All Black Sitiveni Sivivatu or old foe Napolioni Nalaga, two big men with gas in the tank.

"There's no doubt they've got some serious firepower in their backs with Siti (Sivivatu) and Nalaga. If they get the ball in their hands, they will be massive weapons," noted Gibbes.

The problem for Leinster is that wing candidates Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway and Fionn Carr have not yet proven their mettle in such an unrelenting foreign, claustrophobic environment.

Clermont will bring unbelievable physical intensity to an almost annual fixture they may still harbour grievances about from recent heartbreaks.

Their out-half Brock James turned goal-kicking gun-shy in the Heineken Cup quarter-final, missing a hatful of points as the French club missed out by one point (29-28) at The RDS in April 2010.

Then, there was Gordon D'Arcy's hit on Wesley Fofana in the semi-final at Bordeaux last year to shake the ball out of the French centre's control in the process of grounding it.

"It sums up what's facing us, the quality, the depth, the support they have it's bloody intimidating for the players and for the officials as well I would imagine.

"Figuratively, the size of the challenge is their pride in their home record, perhaps how their campaign finished last year and their familiarity with us," said Gibbes.

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