Leinster cast prop net wide to escape tight spot
LEINSTER are "scouring the globe" in a frantic bid to recruit a tight-head prop following last weekend's injury to Stan Wright.
The Cook Islander is expected to be out of action for at least six months after injuring his Achilles in the friendly defeat to Wasps on Friday.
At yesterday's Magners League launch in Cardiff, new coach Joe Schmidt said strengthening the province's front-row resources was a top priority with only this weekend's friendly against Leicester left before they kick off their campaign away to Glasgow on September 3.
"The signs are that it's going to be six months," said Schmidt. "There's an operation on Wednesday for a ruptured Achilles tendon. We're scouring the globe, we're working on a bit of a short list, but we've got to make sure of ability first up and then have to make a choice as to who might be the best option.
"We also have an issue with Mike Ross, who is unavailable to play this weekend because of a strained calf, which effectively leaves us with no tight-head prop so we're looking to get a replacement who could front up to Leicester this weekend.
"We're looking at someone Irish, playing in Ireland at present. We're talking to a guy who we're desperately keen comes available, then we're looking further afield. Stan is obviously a foreign player so we are confident we can replace him with like," added the New Zealander.
Captain Leo Cullen and blindside flanker Kevin McLaughlin are battling long-term injuries, while Australian out-half/centre Shaun Berne is also ruled out with an Achilles problem. However, Schmidt is optimistic second-row Nathan Hines will be available for selection and, despite the injury issues and having to cope with his international stars being unavailable for large portions of the league campaign, the former Clermont backs coach is confident last season's beaten finalists can produce another strong campaign.
"As a new coach, getting to know players and maybe trying to change a few things (are my priorities)," he said. "We were the second lowest scoring team in the Magners last year, maybe we need to tweak things a little bit. I certainly would not detract from where they ended up, because I thought they had a fantastic defensive structure, but if we can marry that with a little more attacking opportunity, that would be great.
"I won't try to be someone I'm not, I'm not (ex-Leinster coach) Michael Cheika, I don't have the same style or personality; I will deliver what I can to help the team and can only do that to the best of my ability in the manner I deliver.
"Our supporters may find themselves frustrated (at the bedding-in process). It must be remembered that some of the younger players are replacing some iconic players in Irish rugby and I think they will recognise that, persevere with us and stay patient.
"If we can sneak into the top four of the Magners League, it would be okay. I know what Leo (Cullen) says that it's not about being top of the league, but about timing your run."
Munster were beaten 16-6 by Leinster at the semi-final stage in last season's competition, but their captain Paul O'Connell, not due to return to action until after Christmas as he continues his recovery from a groin injury, says the 2009 champions can draw on their experience over the long league campaign.
"We're lucky that we've been there or thereabouts in the Heineken Cup and the Magners League since 2000 or 2001, so we're quite experienced," said O'Connell.
"A lot of the older guys we have now were 22 or 23 back then. We'd like to think that we win more tight games than we lose. For some teams, maybe the likes of Glasgow, that's only something that's been happening in recent years. The more you're in a position to win those big games, the better you get at it.
"There are certain things we want to do on the field. There are certain standards that we want to meet in every match. It will always be a goal of ours to win the Magners League, that never changes."
O'Connell believes champions Ospreys remain the team to beat as they have developed a hard edge to go with their array of attacking talents.
"They added a bit of mental strength to the strength in depth that they had as a squad. They came away to Ireland to win some big games particularly, and then beat Leinster away in the final. They were certainly a bit cuter than they were and just a bit more streetwise."
Munster face Italian newcomers Aironi in their first league outing in Thomond Park, with Italy's other representatives Treviso hosting the Scarlets. Celtic rugby yesterday announced that Italian broadcaster Dahlia TV will be covering games played in Italy, joining other broadcasters BBC Alba (Scotland), BBC Cymru and S4C (Wales) and RTE, BBC NI and TG4 from Ireland, with 85pc of the 135 games screened live.
Other announcements yesterday included former Scotland and Lions full-back Andy Irvine replacing Ireland's John Hussey as chairman of Celtic Rugby, while John Feehan, chief executive of the Six Nations and the Lions, was appointed Celtic Rugby chief executive. This means the tournament will now be managed out of the same Dublin office in charge of the Six Nations Championship and the Lions.