Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt is hoping to use their league clash with Zebre as a springboard into next month’s back-to-back Heineken Cup showdowns with old rivals Clermont Auvergne.
Leinster have yet to find their rhythm this season, with injuries and international call-ups being obvious factors in some patchy performances.
The high points so far have included putting 45 and 59 points on the Dragons and Cardiff Blues respectively, while also opening their Heineken Cup title defence with two pool wins.
Heavy defeats to the Scarlets and provincial rivals Connacht hurt their RaboDirect PRO12 hopes early on, but they ground out a tense 6-0 win away to Glasgow Warriors last Friday to move into the top four in the league.
Next up for Joe Schmidt’s men is a home tie against bottom side Zebre on Saturday evening, and the head coach only has one result on his mind this week.
“We’ll be looking to try and get four points first and foremost. I think it’s really important that now we’re in the top four that we stay there,” he told LTV.
“We started after round one in last position. We’ve pulled our way into the top four and we’ve got to try to defend that spot.
“It’ll be really important to get the four points and also to get a few combinations together, looking ahead a little bit to what’s coming. It won’t be Zebre next week, it’s something that will contrast Zebre no doubt.”
After tussling with the Italians, Leinster will renew rilvaries with Clermont Auvergne in a mouth-watering home-and-away series – beginning with a trip to the Stade Marcel Michelin on Sunday week (December 9).
It is a crucial time of the season in both competitions and Schmidt, with a raft of Ireland internationals back from GUINNESS Series duty, is eager to reintegrate those frontliners as the province look to rediscover their best form in a short timeframe.
“It’s been pretty hard (to get consistency). Brian (O’Driscoll) and Rob (Kearney) are out, Rob had only played one game anyway.
“Luke (Fitzgerald) hasn’t played at all, Eoin O’Malley hasn’t been able to play. Gordon D’Arcy has only played two games with us so far this year.
“Consistency through that midfield has been very, very difficult, consistency in the back row has been a bit difficult as well.
“Sean O’Brien has had his first game which is great, Dominic Ryan is still out. Rhys Ruddock is only just back from injury. We had Kev (McLaughlin) out in Irish camp and he was freed up play for us last Friday.
“Jamie (Heaslip) is coming back from Irish camp. Even in the second row, I was devastated for Quinn Roux, he was just starting to get a bit of rhythm when he dislocated his shoulder – that’s going to be a long road to recovery for him.
“We were minus six front rowers at the weekend, the five Irish lads and Heinke (van der Merwe) who sailed off to play a little bit for South Africa.
“I think continuity is something that we don’t have, but time to prepare is something we don’t have a lot of either.
“So, we going to have to try to maximise this week…getting a good performance against Zebre to start some momentum going into Clermont (Auvergne) the following week.”
Schmidt can take a number of positives from that ugly but deserved defeat of Glasgow, as two penalties from Ian Madigan saw them overcome the gritty Warriors in horrible conditions.
“We were delighted to get the victory in Glasgow. We came close to scoring a try, there were times when we got very close,” admitted the New Zealander.
“We weren’t probably clinical enough to get over the line and another one of them was a yellow card (for Glasgow) where we weren’t able to get over the line.
“At the same time, it didn’t look like Glasgow were going to score a try. I thought we were pretty good value for our 6-0 win.”
One of the players who played the full 80 minutes against the Scots, scrum half Isaac Boss, has warned that Leinster cannot afford to take winless Zebre lightly.
It has been an encouraging few weeks for the Italian newcomers, who picked up a losing bonus point against Cardiff last Sunday. The previous week they ran in four tries in a heartbreaking late loss at home to Ulster.
“We’ve been looking at Zebre pretty closely. They haven’t got their first win yet, but they’ve been getting pretty close to it,” said Boss.
“They’ll be chasing that first win again this weekend and we definitely don’t want that to happen against us.
“They’ve been scoring some good tries as well and it’s just maybe one or two kicks that (have counted against them). But from our point of view, we’re back at home and we’re looking forward to playing again the RDS.”