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Race on to replace O'Driscoll

CLERMONT AUVERGNE coach Vern Cotter must have had a smile spread wide across his face when he heard Brian O'Driscoll will be out of the Heineken Cup back-to-back matches against Leinster.

In stark contrast, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt is visited with the same issue that tested him to the fullest last season when O'Driscoll's neck-shoulder injury threatened his season, even his career.

Back then, Fergus McFadden, currently in a rich vein of form, started three of the six pool matches; Eoin O'Malley the other three.

The same pretenders to O'Driscoll's throne are lining up to step into the great man's boots, along with Brendan Macken.

While McFadden will spend November with Ireland, O'Malley will be back from a serious knee injury for Leinster against The Ospreys in the PRO12 on Sunday and Macken is looking for proof that he has moved ahead of O'Malley in the pecking order.

Now 24, O'Malley spent "a couple of months on crutches" this summer and, then, wasn't short of company - Dave Kearney, Rhys Ruddock, Dominic Ryan, Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O'Brien to name a few - as the process of rehabilitation began.

The recent problem-free returns of Kearney and Ruddock have given O'Malley "an extra bit of reassurance" to see them so "physically there" against Cardiff Blues on Saturday. The Ospreys will bring the confidence from having beaten Leinster in all three of their meetings last year, including the PRO12 final.

"It was my first game of that season. We were pretty poor that day. Hopefully, it won't be the same kind of thing this week," recalled O'Malley.



Fitness

From a personal point of view, the former Belvedere College schoolboy could have a form-guide from which to more accurately gauge where his match fitness is, how far he has to go to reach 100pc.

"It falls nicely. There is a game this week and there isn't one the next week. I can go back and do more training and sharpen up a bit. I need to get a ball in my hand as much as possible. It will take a while to get the rustiness out," he said.

He is not exactly relishing the first quarter when his body will become reacquainted with the full-on rigour of the professional game, getting aerobically "blown away" before his second wind kicks in.

"With an injury like that, it was all about getting my knee right as soon as possible. The last while I have been putting in the extras, more than lads that are a lot sharper than me," he said.

He will need all the reserves of strength and resolve. The Ospreys are arguably the sharpest unit in the League when it comes to punishing mistakes.

"They seem to be quite good from turnover ball. They're quick. Once they take the ball, they're gone again. You've cough up cheap ball or (make) any sloppy mistakes, they like to go off that."

Twenty-one-year-old Macken has had the time and space to explore his potential over the span of five matches, starting three and coming off the bench in two, all in the PRO12 League.

On the surface, it all looks peachy. He has played five times, scored three tries over the extent of 180 minutes. On average, that works out at one try per two and a quarter matches.

It also stacks up well with his overall return of five tries in 17 appearances for Leinster, seven of those as an impact replacement.



Instinctive

The attacking spark has never been in question.

It is Macken's ability to read situations, react instinctively in defence that have seen him caught out badly, tending to ball watch when his opposite number is cutting an angle.

Maybe, the more experienced O'Malley can lend his knowledge from 49 Leinster caps, four starts in the Heineken Cup, to a clutch of novice players.

"There's not much point telling people what to do until you've got yourself sorted. It doesn't really mean a whole lot if you're dropping balls or missing tackles," he said. "The last time this group played together was the Connacht game a couple of weeks ago. We have something to set right there," O'Malley added.

O'Malley and Macken will duel it out for game time for Leinster against The Ospreys and Glasgow in the PRO12 before McFadden returns to the club to see who Schmidt will ask to fill the boots of a living legend.


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