Three teams Leinster can pit against each other to prepare for Munster
"It's truly competitive."
Stuart Lancaster is in his element at Leinster Rugby. Having stepped away from coaching for a spell after England's ill-fated 2015 World Cup campaign, Lancaster has found a purpose and home at Leinster.
Ahead of professional rugby's return, on these shores, the Leinster senior coach is looking at how best to negotiate two inter-provincial games against Munster and Ulster, and give as many of his large squad some meaningful game-time. Following those games, Leinster will hopefully embark of five consecutive weekends of rugby that could end in a repeat of the 2017/18 double.
With up to 50 players taking part of some of Leinster's sessions, Lancaster and his fellow coaches have to weigh up the needs of the many, will zeroing in on the need of the collective.
"Selection will be really important in this run of games," he says. "If you took those six games as the starting point, assuming or hoping you're going to get to a PRO14 final or you can beat Saracens and get to a European semi-final. In our minds, we need to prepare for that.
"There's no team that goes through those sort of games without changing the team. So, it's very much going to be a squad effort. That's why we will have every player ready to step in and play as when needed. Because we will need to rotate the team. There's no player that will go for 80 minutes, 80 minutes, 80 minutes, 80 minutes. I don't see that happening. I think our squad strength and depth will really be tested but how we select the team and the combinations will have a big bearing on the outcome. We need to get that right as coaches."
Last week, Leinster coach Robin McBryde spoke of a full-on training session at Energia Park, back in early March, that pitted the province's internationals against those holding the Guinness PRO14 fort while they were away. Lancaster smiles when reminded of the session. He comments:
"The team that played against Glasgow were in great form and the lads who had come back from the Six Nations, because the Six Nations was under threat at that point, so the Irish lads had come back into Leinster. We picked three teams and we went at it. Robyn had a unit session afterwards.
"Even in my bit, the three-team bit, the standard was excellent. It really was. I actually used for the first week of lockdown to review, to show them the standard that we should expect from each other and then we watched it again when we came back in to say, 'Right, this is where we left off, let's get back to this level.'
"It was good. It showed the gap is narrowing between the lads who represent Ireland but also those who play for Leinster and want to get there. It's truly competitive."
McBryde and Lancaster's talk of three separate teams got us looking at the Leinster senior and academy squads. Such is Leinster's strength in depth that they could easily put out three teams that would cause most sides problems.
By the time you get to 'Team 3' [see below] there are still three Ireland internationals in the offing but a rake of experienced PRO14 players mixed in there with Ireland U20s and exciting prospects.
As these teams would be for training purposes, they can be pretty interchangeable. Check out the three teams Leinster could field [injured players denoted by *] below.
Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong; James Ryan*, Scott Fardy; Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan; Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton; James Lowe, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, Dave Kearney; Jordan Larmour.
Ed Byrne, Sean Cronin, Andrew Porter; Ryan Baird, Devin Toner; Max Deegan, Dan Leavy, Caelan Doris; Jamison Gibson-Park, Ross Byrne; Cian Kelleher, Conor O'Brien, Fergus McFadden, Adam Byrne*; Rob Kearney.
Peter Dooley*, Dan Sheehan, Michael Bent; Charlie Ryan, Ross Molony; Scott Penny, Will Connors, Josh Murphy; Hugh O'Sullivan, Harry Byrne; Aaron O'Sullivan, Tommy O'Brien, Jimmy O'Brien, Rory O'Loughlin; Hugo Keenan.
That still leaves the likes of Tom Clarkson, Michael Milne, Jack Dunne, David Hawkshaw, Sean O'Brien, Vakh Abdaladze*, James Tracy, Rowan Osborne, Hugh O'Sullivan, Ciarán Frawley and Paddy Patterson in reserve.
Throw in more Year 1 and 2 academy players and you have the start of a decent fourth team too.
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