Wednesday 20 February 2019

Leinster are the Athletic Bilbao of rugby

OPPORTUNITY: Isa Nacewa. Photo: Sportsfile
OPPORTUNITY: Isa Nacewa. Photo: Sportsfile

Leinster will travel to Spain as the Athletic Bilbao of European Rugby.

The two clubs from different sports share a similar identity, one as an all-Basque football outfit, the other as an almost all-Leinster province.

Of course, the Blues throw in Australian Scott Fardy and New Zealanders Isa Nacewa, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park for southern hemisphere flavour and Sean Cronin for southern province spice.

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will make their way to the beautiful San Mames Stadium eager to execute a game plan that would secure their first significant trophy as coaches.

It would also mean a first club accomplishment for many of Leinster's homegrown young men, who have already pocketed a Grand Slam this season.

They will have to do so without one of the veterans, right wing Fergus McFadden, who will play no further part this season.

The nasty looking hamstring tear, which happened as he touched down a crucial try in the Champions Cup semi-final, forcing his removal from The Aviva, has come at a high price.

There is no harder competitor than the Kildare man.


Once again, the cloud of injury has caused the downfall of another to sit beside those of flankers Sean O'Brien and Josh van der Flier.

It looks like opening the door for club captain Nacewa to be stationed on the right wing and the extravagantly gifted Lowe on the left.

It is just as well confirmation came about how Luke McGrath trained fully last Wednesday and has been cleared to make his bid for the number nine shirt in Bilbao.

"There's no doubt in my mind that he'll be fit and available for selection," said Lancaster.

The leg issue which caused Jordi Murphy to pull out of the match against Connacht has improved well enough for the back rower to train fully this week.

The picture is fuzzier over the return of the muscular Rhys Ruddock from a hamstring strain.

The flanker has always been a central plank to the culture change that has happened at Leinster as a natural leader.

In the meantime, the province is doing everything within its powers of persuasion to keep a grip on Joey Carbery in an ongoing process.

"Personally, my view, I want to keep working with Joey at Leinster," said Lancaster.

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