Cullen hopes Sean O'Brien will be fit for Six Nations
Leo Cullen is optimistic that Sean O’Brien can recover from his calf injury in time to be fit for the Six Nations, but admits the problem has been more troublesome than he expected.
The flanker misses out on selection for the province’s final European Champions Cup fixture away to Castres tomorrow night, the last game before Ireland play Scotland at Murrayfield next month.
O’Brien picked up the “low Grade I” injury when playing against Zebre two weeks ago and missed last weekend’s win over Montpellier.
And Cullen hopes he will be fit in time for the Six Nations opener.
“In the Zebre game (Sean) didn’t feel an incident, but he reported it when we came back in training that week about a bit of awareness (with regard) to his calf. We actually though he would be okay to play the Montpellier game at the start of the week but it just hasn’t settled as quickly as we thought it would.
“It is just a mild strain/tear of his calf. Usually you turn those around quite quickly but it has been quite slow. That is why he misses out again this week.
“Those would not normally (last long) but I thought he would have been available this week it’s been a bit slower than we would have thought.
“I would have thought he would have turned it around for this week. It’s been a little bit slower. There is always a chance for complications with injuries even if they are very, very minor.
“I would imagine he would be fine for the start of the Six Nations. He was no a million miles off for this week but he’s not good enough to go this week.”
Cullen goes to Castres without second-row Hayden Triggs after the New Zealander was handed a three-week ban for “making contact with the eye area” of Montpellier’s Nic White during last week’s win.
And the coach has no complaints about the suspension.
“Hayden has been going, really, really well,” he said.
“He’s put his hands up and said that he shouldn’t have pushed Nic White in the face basically. There was not intent on his part but players realise that you can’t do that.
“It was an unfortunate incident, he has been through his hearing yesterday and we move on now.”
Ross Molony will step in for Triggs with Mike McCarthy coming on to the bench.
“Ross has played plenty in the last 18 months,” Cullen said.
“He’s a very smart player, works hard at his game. It’s another big step for him. An away game in France, for the forwards, particularly the tight five, it’s always a challenge.
“He’s gone well with the opportunities he’d had in that last 18 month period. I think he has learnt some good lessons and it is another big step for him.”
Castres retain slim hopes of reaching the quarter-finals if they win tomorrow night, while their home record this season has been excellent.
“They are a proud club,” Cullen said.
“They don’t have the same resources or budgets as some of the other Top 14 teams but you can see year after year that they have always punched above their weight.
“When they play at home they are very strong. There are other clubs in the Top 14 who have much bigger budgets but they always stay in and around the top six.
“They won the Top 14 four or five years ago, reached another final as well. They have a reasonably new coaching group under Christophe Urios, went through a sticky patch but have come out the other side of it.
“They are a well coached team, comfortable playing a non structured game. They don’t have the same size and power as some of the other Top 14 teams so they have adjusted their game slightly. They have had wins over Toulon, Racing and Montpellier this year at home. It is going to be a tough challenge for us.”