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Schmidt Expects ‘Stiff Test’ From Edinburgh

Schmidt Expects ‘Stiff Test’ From Edinburgh

A number of Ireland internationals are expected to return to action with Leinster on Friday as they pay a visit to Murrayfield to face Edinburgh in the RaboDirect PRO12 (kick-off 7.35pm).

The Leinster management are hopeful that Ireland trio Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Brian O’Driscoll, who continue to make positive strides in their respective rehabilitation programmes, will come into the frame this week ahead of Thursday’s team announcement.

“With a short six-day turnaround, the focus in the early part of this week is about nursing knocks and reintegrating players back into the group as a number of players haven’t had much game-time in recent weeks,” said head coach Joe Schmidt.

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“It can be easy to allow your mind to drift because January is shaping up to be a big month for us in the context of the season across both competitions, but we’re very much focused on Edinburgh and what is sure to be another stiff test this weekend.”

Andrew Conway received a dead leg when competing for a ball in the air during last Saturday’s derby victory over Connacht. It is anticipated that he will be fit to train during the week and available for the trip to Edinburgh.

Richardt Strauss is expected to return to the fray over the coming weeks and Shane Jennings, who was a late withdrawal from last Saturday’s line-up due to illness, is expected to return.

Jennings could be joined by a number of other Ireland internationals – such as Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Jonathan Sexton – who were unavailable last weekend.

Kevin McLaughlin, meanwhile, was rested as a precaution after sustaining a shoulder knock against Ulster the previous weekend and is also expected to be in the mix.

Isa Nacewa is also set to return either this week or next after suffering deep tissue bruising to his arm in the recent Heineken Cup round 5 clash with Clermont Auvergne.

In a further boost, second row Mark Flanagan, who has been unavailable since undergoing a back operation in July, is set to be available for Clontarf in the Ulster Bank League this weekend – they face a derby trip to St. Mary’s College.

Commenting on this weekend’s opponents, Schmidt added: “We know from experience how difficult it is to win over in Edinburgh.

“A lot of our players have played under Michael (Bradley) at different levels for Connacht, the Wolfhounds or with the Ireland senior squad when he took interim charge a few years back – and all speak highly of him.

“Games between ourselves and Edinburgh are always tight affairs. We narrowly beat them earlier in the campaign in the RDS (22-16) and it was nip and tuck last season over at Murrayfield when we managed to come out on the right side of a contest that see-sawed right up until the finish (36-28).

“They have a big abrasive set of forwards and proven international performers throughout. With a player like Tim Visser in their ranks, who is racing clear at the top of the try-scoring charts again this year, we can’t afford any defensive lapses.

“Greig Laidlaw controls the game for them at either scrum half or out-half and they have a number of very effective ball carriers led by the likes of Dave Denton and Netani Talei.”