Schmidt gambles on Leinster’s future by benching O’Driscoll
Published 12/01/2013 | 05:00
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has gambled on Leinster's uncertain Heineken Cup future by benching Brian O'Driscoll for this evening's win-or-bust tie against Scarlets at the RDS.
The Irish captain has never started on the bench in a Heineken Cup clash and the record shows that of his 165 appearances for Leinster over 14 seasons, this will be only the fifth time he has not featured from the start.
The last time the talismanic centre was asked to start from the bench was in January 2009, when he replaced Simon Keogh in the 26-18 victory over Connacht in Galway.
In his 120 caps for Ireland, only one came from the bench and that was 14 years ago – during the 1999 Rugby World Cup when he came on against Romania in the pool match at Lansdowne Road, scoring a drop goal for good measure.
Leinster need at least nine points from their final two pool games to qualify – and even then the back-to-back champions may need favourable results from elsewhere to ensure they progress to the last eight.
Next week's trip to Exeter is easily the more difficult of the two concluding pool games in which Leinster must bump up their scoring rate and Schmidt is clearly anxious to hold something in reserve. Having the luxury of O'Driscoll on the bench will be a safety net should the try-chase go horribly wrong.
However, with Luke Fitzgerald, Isa Nacewa and Rob Kearney all restored to the starting line-up, Leinster will hope that they do not have to send an SOS to their former captain, particularly against a hopelessly out-of-sorts and under-strength Welsh outfit.
Should Leinster fail to secure their passage to the quarter-finals, they are in line to lose at least €1m in revenue.
Meanwhile, Connacht have appointed Pat Lam as head coach in succession to Eric Elwood. The 44-year-old has accepted a two-year contract with the option to extend and will take up his role at season's end when Elwood will vacate the position.