Big Ben clocks out but timing can help Leinster
Province set to push for swift decision on Henshaw as Ringrose prepares to step up
Published 23/12/2015 | 02:30
Leinster will continue to reconstruct an all-Irish midfield by pressing the IRFU to allow them confirm the switch of Robbie Henshaw from Connacht.
As the province continues its navel-gazing amidst the worst European run of the professional era, the confirmation that of one of their marquee signings, Ben Te'o, is quitting the listing ship was more than offset by Sean O'Brien's three-year commitment as Leinster plan for the future.
Securing O'Brien was the most heartening buffer required to soften the news that Worcester is now seemingly perceived as a more palatable professional home than Leinster. Exciting young players, spearheaded by another midfield prospect, Garry Ringrose, will now be given the chance to flourish.
Te'o joined Leinster from the South Sydney Rabbitohs as one of the IRFU's sanctioned "project players" - a status which, laughably, hinted that he might one day play for Ireland once he qualified on residency grounds in 2017.
Te'o himself never publicly expressed any such wish and, despite Wasps launching a late bid alongside the Queensland Reds in Australia - Michael Cheika eyed him as a Wallaby prospect - his chosen home is the mighty Worcester Warriors, third from bottom of the English Premiership.
A statement from Leinster also referenced the fact that any international ambitions coveted by their player were kept remarkably close to his chest.
"Te'o, who had only recently expressed a desire to play international rugby at some stage in his career, will see out the current season with Leinster before making the move to Sixways and, although born in Auckland, is eligible to play for England on his mother's side," the club said upon confirming his departure.
It is unclear whether Te'o is choosing an international career in white, rather than green, for simply monetary reasons - albeit his new contract will be vastly superior to that which he is on now.
But it is clear that, with Leinster struggling to maintain their place in Europe's elite, the Australian's assessment that Worcester represents a greener pasture should sound alarm bells for all those supporters who still reckon their province can recapture the glories of recent years.
"Warriors are in a very similar stage in their playing and cultural development that I found when I first joined the Rabbitohs and I look forward to making a similar contribution at Sixways," he said.
"The investment in facilities and infrastructure is impressive and after speaking with Dean Ryan, it is clearly a club which is on the up. Everything is in place for Worcester to become a successful club competing in the top tier and I'm excited about getting started at Sixways."
Although he will stay until the end of the season, Te'o is now part of Leinster's unsuccessful recent past; they now must focus on the future. O'Brien's retention, despite his worrying injury profile, is a promising start.
Cullen wished Te'o well upon being notified of a decision that, over the past few weeks, had gathered a sense of inevitable momentum, with only his final destination being in doubt.
"Although disappointed that Ben is leaving, on behalf of everyone at Leinster Rugby, we would like to wish Ben the very best with his move to Worcester and indeed with his quest to play international rugby," said Cullen.
"Ben is a very popular player within the group and we believe that he can still play a big part in our season."
Te'o has so far made 23 appearances for Leinster scoring five tries since his move at the end of the 2013/'14 season having just secured the NRL title with the club that also produced Sam Burgess to the English rugby union side to rather muted effect.
Burgess played in England's doomed World Cup campaign despite less than a season in Union; he has now returned. New England coach Eddie Jones, an Australian, will be wary of indulging a hasty repeat even if Te'o has a tad more experience of the 15-man game.
After a luckless start to his northern hemisphere career - he broke his arm on his debut against Edinburgh in October 2014 - the 28-year-old still went on to play a further 12 times last season including the Champions Cup knockout stages.
To date this season he has over 700 minutes to his name, lining up in the 13 jersey on ten occasions, scoring one try.
Warriors' head coach Ryan, who already has ex-Munster, Ireland and Lions lock Donncha O'Callaghan in his roster, was clearly delighted with his capture.
"Ben is a really exciting talent, proving he is more than capable of transferring his skills from League to Union," said Ryan.
"His experience and power in the centre will add further depth to our midfield, we're looking forward to him joining."
Timing is everything and, as O'Brien's news later softened the blow for supporters, they were reminded that only in difficulty can one eye opportunity.