Speaking ahead of Saturday’s Magners League grand final, Leinster coach Michael Cheika said that his players are feeling fresh and ready to go as they prepare to take on the high-flying Ospreys.
“The preparation has been a little bit different because we had the weekend off and we just tried to manage the week well so that, most importantly, we have guys running fresh,” explained Michael Cheika, ahead of the inaugural Magners League grand final.
“At this stage of the season it’s just (about) refinements around the game strategy, it’s more about having the players fresh. They just finished training and they looked quite fresh and raring to go.
“We’ll probably only run one more time and get our little bits and pieces together. And then hopefully come Saturday night we’ll be at our best.”
Leinster have had their fair share of injuries towards the end of the season, but thankfully most of Cheika’s frontliners are available to feature against the Ospreys, whom they beat both home and way during the league phase.
“Sean O’Brien’s not ready yet and he won’t be back for this game. We decided that after training today and we’ve got enough in the squad (so we won’t be adding to it).
“The Under-20s have commitments at the moment, with the Junior World Championship coming up, so we’re trying to leave the likes of (Rhys) Ruddock and (Dominic) Ryan out of action if we can. I don’t think we’ll need to draw on them.
“Cian Healy has been a bit ill and hasn’t trained yet since the weekend, but apart from that everyone’s in pretty good nick, bar the standard long-term injuries.
“Leo (Cullen) has gone for an operation on his shoulder and he won’t be playing. It’s hard for Leo because he has battled all season and leads us well.
“It’s disappointing for him, but I think that it was an important decision for him to make; to get that sorted out straight away…it was a pretty easy decision to make and it was about getting him right and in the best possible condition going forward.
“(Shane) Jennings has really come along as far as captaincy is concerned this season and it leaves the door open for Mal (O’Kelly) to play one more game. I think he showed in the last game that he still has plenty left to give and I’m sure we’ll see the best out of him in the last one.”
O’Kelly, Girvan Dempsey and Bernard Jackman are all retiring this weekend and emotions are sure to run high with a number of other players leaving the province along with Cheika, his fellow coaches Kurt McQuilkin and Alan Gaffney and team manager Chris Whitaker.
“There was no sentiment at the end of training when there was a few errors made and we know that if we knock off for a couple of minutes against the Ospreys, we’ll pay.
“The message is loud and clear that this game is about winning the final. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way and I don’t think that any of the other people that are leaving would want it any other way,” admitted the Stade Francais-bound Cheika.
“It’s not about me or any of the individual players. It’s about the club and making the club better. It has always been about that.
“And that’s how we’ll look back anyway on the contribution that we make whether it’s as coaches or players. We’ll have plenty of time to say goodbye afterwards. This is about winning the game.”
Reflecting on his fifth and final season at Leinster, he added: “I think that it has been a good season regardless (of Saturday’s result). That’s not to take any pressure away or anything like that.
“What we’ve done in terms of developing younger players who have come through now like (Kevin) McLaughlin, (Jonathan) Sexton has appeared, (Eoin) Reddan has done really well since coming to Leinster. Fergus McFadden, Eoin O’Malley. (Jamie) Heaslip has gone on another level.
“We lost some big names last year – (Felipe) Contepomi, (Rocky) Elsom, and (Chris) Whitaker who retired – and we have been pretty consistent. Guys like Shaun Berne and Nathan Hines have fitted into the mix really well and added to the team.
“The biggest thing for me is the team spirit which has been as strong as it has ever been for me. We’re going to need every bit of it because when you test it in the big games, as much as you like to think strategy, technique and all that stuff counts.
“It does, but how together you are and how much you want to win for each other will be extremely important. And that’s something that we have worked hard to build as a playing group and hopefully that will hold us in good stead on Saturday night.”
Leinster won the Magners League title in 2008, the Heineken Cup in 2009 and are now looking to make it three titles in three seasons as they aim to give Cheika the perfect send off in what some are terming the ‘end of an era.’
The Australian does not see it that way and feels that Leinster, under the tutelage of incoming coach Josef Schmidt, can build on the foundations laid during his five years in Dublin and keep the province in title-winning contention each season.
“I don’t think that it’s the end of an era. I would say that it’s very much the start hopefully. There’s good foundations laid, the players have built an excellent culture at the club.
“Hopefully we will put another building block into that on Saturday because having some milestones along the way is very important, that you can look back to and reflect on so that you can say, ‘yes, I achieved that..’.
“So, it is an important building block in terms of how we perceive ourselves as a club and how others perceive us as well. If you look at the team now, it’s very much the start of an era.”