It remains to be seen whether Jacques Nienaber will arrive at Leinster in time for next Saturday’s latest rendezvous with his former province, Munster, at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 6.30pm). South Africa’s World Cup-winning coach was due to land this week but his arrival has been delayed by commercial commitments with the SARU.
Nienaber could yet hook up with his new squad by the end of the week, although he would probably have little input in advance of the Munster game but, failing that, he is likely to be in situ the following week before Leinster’s trip to Connacht.
Leo Cullen is relatively sanguine about the timing of Nienaber’s arrival, preferring that he joins up with the squad at the time that best suits him rather than be placed under any pressure.
“We’ll wait and see,” said Cullen after Leinster’s 54-5 defeat of the Scarlets at the RDS on Saturday night. “I honestly don’t know is the answer. Hopefully, we’re getting closer.”
Much like Stuart Lancaster at the start of the 2016-17 campaign, Nienaber has missed preseason anyway and another week or two will not make a huge difference.
“Leave him to it. Seanie’s doing a great job there as well,” he added in reference to Sean O’Brien’s work with the Leinster defence.
“There’s communication between coaches but it’s small at this point. He’s keen to get in and assess things with his own eyes and be respectful of all the good work that’s going on currently as well. He’s been good in all the conversations I’ve had with him.
“It will be great to have that new voice, fresh energy in the group, I think you can see what he brings to teams, one team specifically. We’ll see. He won’t have a major coaching role next week, put it that way, but at what point he is in, [it will be] days rather than weeks.”
On a weekend when all four Irish teams won, Leinster’s performance was again not without its flaws – notably during a 33-minute patch without scoring – but their fourth successive bonus-point win elevated them to first in the table after five rounds. They welcomed back another nine of their World Cup frontliners against the Scarlets, and Jack Conan and Robbie Henshaw could also return to the mix this week.
By sharp contrast, having welcomed back Tadhg Beirne, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray for Munster’s hard-earned 10-3 win over the Stormers in difficult conditions at Thomond Park on Saturday evening, Graham Rowntree is resigned to being without O’Mahony and Jack O’Donoghue for at least a week and potentially longer.
O’Mahony was withdrawn at half-time due to a shoulder injury which will require a scan, while his replacement, O’Donoghue, suffered an ankle injury near the end of the game.
“We’ll find out from the scan but he gets back up, hobbles back into the line and he’s still available to make a tackle,” said Rowntree with regard to O’Donoghue. “It’s incredible, an incredible bit of footage.”
As with Nienaber, it remains to be seen whether Jean Kleyn returns from South Africa this week, while hooker Diarmuid Barron is likely to be back after completing the graduated-return-to-play protocols last week. But O’Mahony and O’Donoghue join an injury list already featuring RG Snyman (chest/shoulder), Joey Carbery (wrist), Patrick Campbell (ankle), Roman Salanoa (knee), Mike Haley (hip), Cian Hurley (ankle/Achilles), Niall Scannell (groin) and Liam Coombes (shoulder).
“Everybody’s got injuries. We had two back-three players retire last month so we’ve bolstered that,” said Rowntree in reference to the retirements of Keith Earls and Andrew Conway, and the signing of Colm Hogan, the 26-year-old former Tasman Mako winger.
“I’ll see Monday morning. We’ve got a big squad and fortunately our young men are training with us every day and we’re bringing them through so I’ll look at our back up.
“We’ll probably lose Pete, Jack O’Donoghue, for a few weeks at least but we’ve got Ruadhán Quinn, Brian Gleeson, Alex Kendellen there as well coming through. The fact they’ve been training with us and have played for us means they’ll be up to speed.”
Rowntree also confirmed that another new signing, the Crusaders tight-head Oli Jager, will arrive this week.
As to the possibility of Jager making his Munster debut next Saturday, Rowntree was perhaps not entirely joking when he said: “It depends if he’s been in business class or not. We’ll see, but he’ll be on deck in some capacity at the back end of the week.
“I’ve kept an eye on him for a long time. He’s been playing in a very good set-up at the Crusaders, a good man. I think he’ll add to us, I really do.”
Either way, after equalling Donncha O’Callaghan’s record of 268 appearances against the Stormers, Stephen Archer is likely to become Munster’s most capped player of all time next Saturday.
“He’s dependable,” said Rowntree. “Great around the group. He’s a giver, helps the young lads. He’s a fit man as well, went on a right run at the end of last season and played a lot of minutes for us. That shows what we think of him.
“It’s a testament to him and his professionalism. Going to have to pick him next week now, won’t I? No, I can’t speak highly enough about the guy. He’s everything that we are. Diligent, hard-working, he cares, proud, a tough, tough man.”