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Leinster back on track but Schmidt is still wary

THE good news just keeps on coming the way of Leinster coach Joe Schmidt as Isa Nacewa and David Kearney look set to join Richardt Strauss as a slightly less valuable trio of first-team players to return this week.

Brian O'Driscoll (ankle), Rob Kearney (back) and Luke Fitzgerald (neck/shoulder) came through the bonus-point win over Edinburgh with flying colours.

Now, one wing Nacewa has mastered the pain from a deep-bruising to his forearm and another wing Dave Kearney has made a full recovery from his quad problem.

Schmidt has already spoken about how Strauss should be available from the knee ligament injury that he suffered against Clermont Auvergne last month.

Leinster will stand right at the exit door of the Heineken Cup when the Scarlets come knocking in Pool Five at The RDS next Saturday.

It is a simple fact of life that they will have to do what Ulster did to the Scarlets in the PRO12 League at Ravenhill on Friday night, that is to secure the four-try bonus-point.

Coach Schmidt cannot afford to think like that: "The two competitions don't overlap really. One of the things is that the Scarlets were missing a couple of crucial players (against Ulster). If they bring those back, it will make a big difference," he warned.

"They didn't start Scott Williams. They were missing a few guys in the pack as well. It depends on the fitness of those guys on whether they come back into the side.

"I certainly know that they are a quality side and, for us, it will be first and foremost all about getting the result. If the game breaks open from there that will be all well and good."

Even allowing for everything going their way in Dublin, Schmidt will have to look to the generosity of others to invigorate Leinster's New Year resolution to defend their European Cup with every ounce of energy they can muster until their fate has been sealed at the conclusion of Round Six or extended to April and, possibly, beyond to The Aviva Stadium in May.

At present, Leinster have hoarded 10 points, the fifth worst of the six second-placed clubs in the Pools. They will have to grab five points next Saturday and see what happens elsewhere.

Schmidt is cagey about the Scarlets. He will remind his players of what another under-achieving Welsh club, Cardiff Blues, did to Munster in the PRO12 League on Saturday night.

He has also pointed to the toothless appearance of Edinburgh against Leinster at Murrayfield last Friday as a dangerous reason for Munster to believe they can roll over the Scottish club.

"I think Munster would look at Edinburgh and would probably look forward to coming to Murrayfield next week. You can't really judge it that way," he said.

There was also a glimpse of how the Exeter Chiefs can be made to look vulnerable at home when Northampton Saints became the first Premiership club to beat them at Sandy Park this season.

The 30-19 margin was built on the aggression of the Saints forward pack, paving the way for three tries and 15 points from the boot of fly-half Stephen Myler.

The mist will have partly cleared by the end of next weekend.

By then, Leinster will know if they still hold a reasonable interest in the competition, what they will have to do at Exeter Chiefs on Saturday week and which other clubs will have to do them a turn.