Schmidt optimistic on fitness of key players

Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt believes the outlook is positive for a number of Leinster’s injury concerns ahead of the province’s crucial Heineken Cup meeting with Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park Stadium next weekend.

The New Zealander is confident that Brian O’Driscoll and Richardt Strauss will be in contention for a starting place next weekend along with back row duo Kevin McLaughlin and Sean O’Brien.

O’Driscoll is being eased back into the first team after an ankle injury which saw him sidelined for almost three months.

The centre came off the bench for the final twenty minutes of Leinster’s 33-14 defeat of the Scarlets at the RDS on Saturday.

Seán O’Brien was a late withdrawal from the Scarlets game due to illness while both McLaughlin (shoulder) and Strauss (knee) were left of the match day squad for the visit of the Welsh outfit.

Schmidt admitted it was a bruising encounter on Saturday evening but remains optimistic about the fitness of his players ahead of the vital Round 6 clash with Exeter.

"It was a punishing game,” he said. “There's a lot of tired and fairly beaten up bodies in there at the moment, so that's a credit to the Scarlets and I'm pretty sure they are feeling the same way.

"I think Brian (O'Driscoll) is good (injury wise). I think Sean (O'Brien) is good, Kevin McLaughlin should be good. Richardt Strauss is good as well - he maybe could have played tonight but Aaron Dundon has been a really good soldier for us.

"He came on and made a really positive impact. One of the things we have is a lot of faith in a guy like Rhys Ruddock and I thought he was immense tonight."

Leinster did the needful by claiming a bonus point over the Scarlets but qualification is by no means guaranteed for the defending champions who need to secure another five points in Devon next weekend to have any hope of progressing.

Despite scoring five tries, Schmidt was frustrated to see his team spurn opportunities as he knows qualification could hinge of tries scored at the end of the pool stages.

"There already are (regrets). There are at least two more tries we should have got, one more where I felt there was good space and the ball was knocked down.

"There is frustration but the reality is we are where we are and this is what we can plan to do and try to execute it.”

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