Longford Rugby Club plays host to the current Heineken Cup Champions when they hold the open training session in Longford RFC this Friday the from 11 am. Members of the public are invited along for an incredible opportunity to see some of stars of Irish rugby put through their paces as Leinster step up their preparations for the new season. It will be a great chance to witness a professional team training and see players such as European Player of the Year Ica Nacewa, Richardt Strauss, who qualifies for Ireland this year and the like of Ireland stars Devon Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Fionn Carr, Jamie Hagan and David Kearney.Overseeing the training session will be Head Coach Josef Schmidt.
The Kiwi coach, who steered Leinster to Heineken Cup success and a Magners League final spot said that he was looking forward to running his charges through their paces at the home of Longford Rugby: “I think the session is a great opportunity to extend the support base and show the accessibility of the team within the province. They have been really effective in generating interest, particularly outside Dublin. We would certainly hope that Longford will have as large a turnout as the one in Tallagh, but we would also be conscious of the fact that there are a lot of people away on holiday at this time of year. I am sure that a lot of people who have just a passing interest in rugby will turn up and hopefully they will get a look at what we do and catch up with a few of the players. That accessibility is really key in these delocalised trainings.”
The Leinster coach said that although it is an opportunity for the public to engage with the team, it is very much a pre season training sessions: “We have had four very, very heavy weeks where the players have worked very hard. We will try to balance that up a little over the next two weeks, we need to recover a little bit in preparation for our two pre-season games on the 19th and 22nd of August . The games against the Melbourne Rebels and the Northampton Saints (a replay of last years Heineken Cup final) will be keenly contested. The players will have to be freshened up for those games. The season proper starts with the game against Ospreys in the first round of the Pro 12.”
Last years success in the Heineken Cup silenced any doubts about Schmidt’s credentials as one of the top club coaches. However the transition from the previous coach was not seamless: “The Heineken Cup win was a fantastic result, but it came with a lot of hard work from the players. I think that the start was difficult, trying to match players that have come from two entirely different training programmes is always going to be really difficult. I now know from experience that I probably could have done that better.”
The challenges of the coming season is not something that the New Zealander takes lightly: “It is going to be difficult this year with the World Cup. I hope that as many of our players as possible get selected, but the more that do the more vulnerable we are early on.
At the same time this presents more opportunities for some of the younger players. There is always a silver lining. We may be vulnerable but there will be lots of enthusiasm from the younger players.”
The depth of talent and the emergence of new names for Leinster was key to their success: “We have had some guys that really came through last season. One advantage was that we have had some experienced players intermingled amongst them. Isa Nacewa played in all but one game last year and his influence on players like Dave Kearney, Andrew Conway, Owen O’Malley and Fergus McFadden, when the international players were away, was invaluable. Fergus McFadden became an international and I think that Isa was very helpful in helping him, particularly when he moved from the middle of the park to the wing.
Other guys like Nathan Hines, Henke Van Der Merwe who played during the international windows really helped. Then there were a few guys who were not initially selected, like Mike Ross and Leo Cullen, who assisted the young players. We might be a little bit more exposed this year, with some of those older guys away, but at the same time those younger guys have had one year of playing in some big games and they would have learned from that experience.”
With such an impressive season behind them it would be easy to imagine that aspirations are high for the Blues. However Schmidt is reticent to look too far ahead: “I would be lying if I told you we had any specific goals. We just try to work away and, to be honest, if you look too far ahead you trip over what is in front of you. We are very much a week by week team, we will work hard this week and we work hard next week finishing with a tough training session in Longford and then hopefully that will look after the long term automatically.”
There are no prizes for guessing who his pick for World Cup success
is: “I can’t get away from hoping that the All Blacks can win at home.
At the same time I really hope that the Irish boys make the semi.
Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen. I’ll be watching three teams. I have a lot of friends in the French team, but they are a less unified team than the Irish side and they may not do as well as they have done in the past.”
The open training session next Friday is a free event. Don’t miss your chance to see and meet the Leinster Squad in Longford RFC at what is the only opening training session outside Dublin this year. Please note that any of the Leinster squad who will be playing for Ireland in the August Internationals will not be training with the club. All players not on International duty will be present.