Monday 18 December 2017

Heinke to spill beans to Blues

Van der Merwe will dish out information on compatriots

Leinster loose-head Heinke van der Merwe has described Saracens' director of rugby Brendan Venter, a fellow South African, as an "explosive" character.

Venter's unpredictable personality was reflected by his team away to Clermont-Auvergne in round one of the Heineken Cup when they tried to spring a surprise by taking the French champions on at their own game.

Former Golden Lion Van der Merwe, who restricted Ireland's Cian Healy to an impact role against Racing-Metro, is beginning to make his mark in the front row beside another South African Richardt Strauss.

"I don't really know Brendan Venter that well. From what I have read of him back home, he is an explosive type," said Van der Merwe, pitchside at UCD yesterday.

Leinster coach Joe Schmidt could do worse than make a beeline for Van der Merwe and hooker Strauss for inside knowledge on the host of South Africans that pepper the Saracens roster.

There are four Springboks and a clutch of well-respected fellow countrymen who never quite reached that career pinnacle. They constitute the backbone of the club.

Hooker Schalk Brits bounded into the Guinness Premiership as the sort of under-sized, fleet-of-foot forward that did not fit into the Springbok mould quite as squarely as the much bulkier John Smit or Bismarck du Plessis.

"I played with Schalk when I was a junior. He is a very good player. He had a great season last season. It is not all about size. It is about how much you want to play. It is about who wants it most," Van der Merwe added.

Van der Merwe also played with prop Deon Carstens in his time at the Natal Sharks. The scrum could be a decisive factor at Wembley on Saturday.

"That is where the game always starts. It is a challenge for us. We have to set our platform as a pack. We have to attack theirs and keep going forward," he said.

"Definitely, the more you play together, the better the players get to know each other. You get to know what each other is going to do. We are working well together at the moment. We are starting to believe in each other".

Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes said Leinster and Irish medical teams will "liaise" over the decision on Brian O'Driscoll's fitness to play on Saturday.

If ever there was a case for the Player Welfare Programme taking precedence, this is it. Surely, O'Driscoll cannot be risked.

"The scan has revealed a more positive outlook than we thought on Saturday. He hasn't been definitively ruled out," said Gibbes. "We haven't been given a definitive answer. We will let it settle down for a few days and get a clearer idea at the end of the week.

"We all saw the stress and discomfort he was in. Certainly, after the game -- he has had this trouble before -- he had a gut feeling about this one."

It is almost impossible to believe O'Driscoll will recover from what looked like a severe hamstring jolt, but club captain Leo Cullen could return. The improvement of 6'10" Devin Toner in all aspects of the game and the nuts-and-bolts application of Nathan Hines cannot fully cover for Cullen's rehabilitation from a shoulder reconstruction.

"Everyone knows Leo's track record and what he offers to the team. It would be great to have him for what will be a hostile game at Wembley," voiced Gibbes.

"Someone of Leo's temperament and leadership skills would be great. Again, we will make that decision later."

Those short days will feel like a lifetime for O'Driscoll and Cullen as they bid to beat the clock.

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