Leinster down to bare bones against Wasps
Loss of Kearney and Ross could be the tipping point
Leinster v WASPS, The RDS, Tomorrow (KO 5.15) BT Sport 2
THIS is becoming nothing short of a farce but no one at Leinster is able to laugh at current circumstances.
Not only did coach Matt O'Connor have to deal with the host of absent broken bodies in the lead-up to the opening evening of the European Rugby Champions Cup, he was hit with a double blow yesterday morning.
Full-back Rob Kearney aggravated his back injury and Mike Ross could not beat a groin problem.
This immediately removed the back-door security and front-foot aggression of Kearney and the scrum lock-down of Ross.
Due to the stretched-to-breaking-point pressure on playing resources, left wing Luke Fitzgerald will sit on the bench, at least one week ahead of schedule, with a view to playing for the first time since March.
Kearney and Ross were thought to be ready to play through the pain barrier.
This plan was shredded as late as yesterday morning when the danger to their longer-term playing prospects must have been weighed up against what Leinster need right at this this moment in time.
Instead, Ian Madigan will adopt again the jack-of-most-trades position, this time at full-back, as the man who has suffered most from injuries to others.
This will make room for the skilful, but under-cooked, Noel Reid to make his first start in the European Cup.
The natural inside centre had a break-out season in 2012/2013. There was a lot expected from him until an ankle injury meant he has played just 81 minutes of rugby this season.
This is a test, not of his skills, but of his sharpness and battle-ready attitude to the heavy contact coming his way. Even more worryingly, Michael Bent has been parachuted into the number three jersey when he started out the season as the clear fourth choice at tight-head and third at loose-head.
Presumably, Tadhg Furlong is restricted to bench duty because of the vast experience Wasps will bring to the contest in the front row. There could come a time when Furlong will have to be let off the leash as he makes his way back from a blow to the head against Munster.
Wasps are coming locked and loaded.
Their second row engine room of England's Joe Launchbury and Wales' Bradley Davies is the perfect balance between athlete and animal.
They will pack down in behind a fierce all-international scrummaging unit of England's Matt Mullan and Italy's Carlo Festuccia and Lorenzo Cittadini.
These are five grinders who will provide the platform on which Springbok Ashley Johnson, arguably the best player in the English Premiership at the moment, captain James Haskell and Nathan Hughes will look to carry all before them. Coach Dai Young also has the snappy Joe Simpson and the under-rated Andy Goode, a really steady playmaker, in the hole behind them, a gifted centre in Elliot Daly and electric pace from Christian Wade and Sailosi Tagicakibau ahead of Italy full-back Andrea Masi.
Leinster are mired, knee-deep in injury and Wasps might just be able to add insult to it at the RDS tomorrow evening.
Leinster: I Madigan; Z Kirchner, G D'Arcy, N Reid, D Fanning; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Bent, M McCarthy, D Toner, R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip (capt).
Wasps: A Masi; C Wade, E Daly, E Leiua, S Tagicakibau; A Goode, J Simpson; M Mullan, C Festuccia, L Cittadini, J Launchbury, B Davies, A Johnson, J Haskell (capt), N Hughes.