The Leinster squad have stepped up their preparations ahead of next Saturday night’s RaboDirect PRO12 clash against Connacht in the RDS (KO: 7.45pm).
The medical team have reported no major injury concerns for the province arising from the trip to Belfast, with Noel Reid having been withdrawn as a precaution after twisting awkwardly and feeling dazed. Second row Leo Cullen, meanwhile, required five stitches to a cut above his eye, but he will also take a full part in training this week.
Luke Fitzgerald continues to make positive strides in his recuperation and the Ireland back will train fully with the squad this week. If he doesn’t make Saturday’s clash it is hoped that he will be in contention for the trip to Edinburgh in the next round of PRO12 matches. The team will be announced on Friday lunchtime.
The Leinster squad will train on Christmas eve before breaking for Christmas Day and they will then resume preparations for the weekend’s interprovincial clash on Wednesday.
There are now over 16,400 tickets sold for Saturday’s game and tickets are still on sale from www.leinsterrugby.ie, the Leinster Rugby Store (Donnybrook), Spar (Donnybrook) and Ticketmaster outlets nationwide.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s game Leinster Coach Joe Schmidt said: “We played well in parts of the Ulster game and it was frustrating not to get something for our efforts. We have had a look at the game and we are disappointed with aspects of our performance, especially as we knew that Ulster would be very tough to beat.
"But we also know that we’ve got to move on quickly and salvage as much as we can from the Christmas period.
“Saturday night presents the squad with an opportunity to put the Ulster performance behind us but the improving Connacht side have proved very difficult to beat this year. They have recruited well, including a number of players we know well, and will look to dominate and to be as combative as they were in their win over us earlier in the season.
“We know from personal experience how good they can be and they’ll be disappointed that they didn’t make the most of their opportunities against Munster last Saturday, especially when George Naupou crossed the line late in the game. They’ll be frustrated by that and motivated by it as well so there is no doubt about how committed and passionate they will be arriving into the RDS.
“Hopefully we’ll be in a position to welcome back Luke (Fitzgerald), Eoin (O’Malley), Dave (Kearney) and Shane (Jennings) either this week or next and it was also good to get Rob (Kearney) and Brian (O’Driscoll) back on the field as they step up their respective programmes so. With a number of internationals set to be rested this weekend that presents some of the younger members of the panel with a further opportunity to gain experience that will hopefully add value to their development.
“These interprovincial games around the Christmas period are great for players and supporters alike and it looks like we’re going to have another big crowd which is fantastic. The atmosphere will be charged and I know that the players are excited about getting back to playing in the RDS for the first time in a while.
“Weeks like this one are slightly different because it’s a time for everyone to see family and friends, but the players are professional enough and well used to the routine at this time of year.
“The support that we have received at home and on the road over 2012 has been fantastic and on behalf of the players and management I’d just like to thank everyone for their backing. We hope everyone has a great Christmas and we are determined to regain our place in the play-off spots, starting hopefully with a strong performance this weekend.”