Leinster’s squad update on their website yesterday today told a familiar story. Or rather, it told no story at all. As has become a commonplace occurrence, there were “no fresh injury concerns”. Some might put it down to luck that Leinster have remained largely free of the niggly injuries that are normally standard for any squad at this late stage of the season. However, it has been the province’s squad rotation and intelligent injury management that should be congratulated.
There’s no need to go into the quality and depth of the Leinster squad in any great detail as it’s been widely acknowledged elsewhere. Let’s all simply commend the academy for the quality of player they are regularly producing and also to Joe Schmidt, and Michael Chieka before him, for giving these young players a chance to play. The combination of the two factors has led to genuine depth in Leinster, allowing Schmidt to make wholesale changes week-to-week without affecting his side’s win ratio, and thus sparing his front-liners from overuse injuries and fatigue.
The depth of Leinster’s squad and their backroom’s intelligence in knowing when a player needs a rest go hand-in-hand. For any rugby geeks, this fascinating article by Steve Hamm is well worth checking out. It’s highly likely that Leinster operate a similar analytics system in relation to injury prevention. You may recall certain Leinster players speaking of how the coaches are aware of when to ease individuals’ training programmes depending on how the player is feeling.
While Munster have suffered with a long injury list throughout the season, Leinster have more often than not had close to a full squad to choose from. This may partly be down to luck, and misfortune on Munster’s part, but it’s also attributable to the good work of Leinster’s backroom staff. Jason Cowman and Daniel Tobin are the men in charge of the squad’s Strength & Conditioning. They are clearly doing a fantastic job, as Leinster always look stronger and fitter than their opposition.
Physiotherapists James Allen and Gareth Farrell, Nutritionist Emma McCruden and Masseur Mike Thompson all play key parts too. The role of Stephen Smith, the squad’s Rehabilitation Coach, is particularly interesting. In his own words, his job is to “assess injury from start to finish. Look at what an individual needs to do to be able to play again”. The return of Brian O’Driscoll months sooner than expected after shoulder surgery suggests that Smith is excellent in his line of work.
Likewise, the return of Rob Kearney from a serious knee injury was impressive. Smith’s work as Rehab Coach, along with Cowman and Tobin’s contributions, meant Kearney returned from injury a better athlete and player than before. Kevin McLaughlin is another who suffered a knee injury that had the potential to diminish his power. He returned stronger too. Luke Fitzgerald would seem to be the exception to the rule, but if he stays with Leinster, you would have confidence in the staff’s ability to help him recuperate from his long string of injuries.
We go back to the depth of Leinster’s squad and how this is hugely important in maintaining success even when the front-line players need to be rested. Again, the less-lauded backroom staff deserve praise. Academy Manager Colin McEntee oversees the whole operation to great effect. It doesn’t need to be argued that Leinster’s Academy is producing the highest amount of physically match-ready young players in Ireland. Much of this is down to the likes of Academy S&C Coach Tom Turner, Bryan Cullen with the Sub-Academy and Dave Fagan with the Underage teams.
It goes even deeper. McEntee oversees the Elite Player Development programme which works with players from the age of 15. Girvan Dempsey and Wayne Mitchell are two of the Officers in charge at this level. Getting their hands on kids at that age, and introducing them to the Leinster ethos, can only be a good thing.
In Joe Schmidt, Leinster have a world-class coach. In the likes of O’Driscoll, Sexton, O’Brien, Kearney, Nacewa and Thorn they have a group of world-class players. It also appears that the world-class ability in Leinster reaches all the way into their impressive backroom staff.
Photos courtesy: Ken Bohane.