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Burden of No 13 shirt hard to shoulder

LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt may not have the playing services of Brian O'Driscoll to rely on in Montpellier, but Ireland's captain will travel to France to lend his valuable insight.

For all the long-term unanswerable questions about O'Driscoll, there are immediate concerns that have to be dealt with. Who will wear the number 13 jersey for Leinster and Ireland this season?

At least Declan Kidney will have time to ponder the predicament with Tommy Bowe the most obvious candidate. Schmidt is not short of options, only time.



1.FERGUS McFADDEN

The combination of Gordon D'Arcy and Fergus McFadden in the centre is not a balanced one. Schmidt probably played them there against Munster due to both men's need for game time.

He has conceded that "to continue that is an option". However, to do so would be to limit Leinster's variety in attack, where McFadden simply hasn't had the time and doesn't yet have the skill set to release the runners around him.

McFadden is a wonderfully committed, direct runner, without the playmaking capacity and peripheral vision that is so vital to locking down this position. He is a strong candidate for inside centre and wing for Saturday.



2. EOIN O'MALLEY

The Old Belvederian played through all seven of Leinster's PRO12 League matches before last Friday. He was solid without ever quite setting the world on fire. He probably needed the rest.

Unlike the others, O'Malley has recent, reliable form for this particular assignment, a treacherous journey into the unknown in the south of France against what Schmidt calls a "very, very powerful" Montpellier.

The 23-year-old is a 'lifer' when it comes to 13. He has worked in the shadow of O'Driscoll and was more than adequate opposite Clerment-Auvergne's Aurelian Rougerie at Stade Marcel Michelin last December.



3. LUKE FITZGERALD

Schmidt has let it be known on more than one occasion that he sees Fitzgerald as a left winger, even though he is considering whether "to push Luke in there and let Dave Kearney or Fionn Carr come onto the wing".

Fitzgerald, 24, was not too enthusiastic about starting five of Leinster's first six PRO12 matches in the inside centre slot, reverting to left wing for the Edinburgh and Munster games.

He is still some way off the form that made him a 2009 British and Irish Lion, and the risk of shattering his slowly returning confidence is just too great.



4. ISA NACEWA

The final option that was not expressed was to make Isa Nacewa the fulcrum of Leinster's attack and defence in the wider channels. The New Zealander is a remarkable man, rivalling Felipe Contepomi and Rocky Elsom as Leinster's best overseas signing.

He is, arguably, best equipped to make as compelling a fixture at outside centre as he has at full-back and wing, as he has all the tools necessary to do so.

However, Ireland's needs for the Six Nations may prevent Schmidt from making this move. The national management may want to see O'Malley finally given an extended Heineken Cup stay in his natural position.


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