Saturday 23 March 2019

Scarlets are 'tougher' than Saracens says Stuart

Return: Robbie Henshaw
Return: Robbie Henshaw

Stuart Lancaster was not just paying lip service when stressing how the Scarlets are "without doubt the toughest opponents we will have faced so far in Europe", ahead of the Champions Cup semi-final on Saturday.

That's tougher than monster Montpellier. Tougher than the champions Saracens.

With this in mind, there is good news about the return to full training of centre Robbie Henshaw and Jack Conan, the No 8 described by Lancaster as "a big bonus".

"Robbie is good to go," said the senior coach.

"He has ticked all the boxes he needs to tick and he was 24th man on Saturday. He trained last week so, again, another bonus."

However, there is greater uncertainty over the state of Sean O'Brien's shoulder and Luke McGrath's ankle.

"We're not giving up hope on Sean, and Luke's in a similar situation to Sean, on an upward curve.

"But, again, the clock is ticking on that one," added Lancaster.

"There comes a point in the week where you need to make a decision for the cohesion of the team.

"Boys need to know who is starting and who is on the bench. It's not quite at that stage yet."

Jordan Larmour came through the Treviso loss with no adverse reaction to his calf problem.

Centre Rory O'Loughlin has entered into his 'return to play' protocols from a blow to the head.

Flanker Rhys Ruddock is unlikely to make it back in time and hooker Richardt Strauss will miss out with a calf injury.

Leinster will need as many hands on deck as possible and, given the stage of the season, Josh van der Flier (knee) and Dave Kearney (shoulder) are the only other squad members out of the picture.

The situation regarding McGrath is further complicated by the 'Cotonou Agreement', which prevents Leinster from selecting all three of their antipodeans for the semi-final.

"Internally we would have clarity about what is happening by tomorrow (Tuesday), really," said Lancaster about selection.

"That's the bonus of having Robbie back and Isa's (Nacewa) versatility."

The special gift of James Lowe is the luxury of putting him one-on-one with defenders because he can run over them or around them.

In addition, the Kiwi has been a real weapon close to the line, like he was for his try against Saracens.

The problem is that should McGrath fail to rebound, Jamison Gibson-Park will start and Lowe will be out in the cold.

"You adapt your game plan to suit the players that you have got," said the coach.

Gibson-Park poses a different problem to McGrath and comes with the right temperament and enough big game experience from Super Rugby.

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