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Schmidt leaves O’Driscoll out for Munster clash

COACH Joe Schmidt has made the dramatic decision to leave Brian O’Driscoll out of the Leinster side to play Munster in the RaboDirect PRO12 League at The Aviva Stadium on Friday night.

This could be seen as the first step in protecting O’Driscoll from the wear and tear that has troubled his body as he bids to prolong his career.

Apparently, he has still not shaken off the neck-shoulder injury that stayed with him at the World Cup. Interestingly, Fergus McFadden comes in at outside centre with Eoin O’Malley restricted to the bench.

Schmidt has also decided to insert Rob Kearney at full-back where he was so valuable to Ireland in New Zealand, giving Isa Nacewa the freedom to come in off the right wing.

The back three is completed by Luke Fitzgerald on the left, where Schmidt sees him as a natural fit in his continuing rehabilitation back to his best form of two years ago.

Isaac Boss is retained at scrum-half on the basis of an impressive performance against Edinburgh and Eoin Reddan’s recent bout of illness as Cillian Willis is poised to make a transfer to Premiership club Sale Sharks.

In the pack, Leo Cullen will lead from the front in the engine room along with Devin Toner, who has benefitted from injuries to Steven Sykes and a burst of solid form.

Ireland props Cian Healy and Mike Ross and loose forward trio Sean O’Brien, Shane Jennings and Jamie Heaslip make their much anticipated return to the blue jersey.

There are also four Ireland internationals and a Springbok in Heinke van der Merwe on the bench as Schmidt moves closer towards the French system of making best use of his 23-man game day squad.

Munster make three changes in personnel from the team that lined out against Aironi.

Just one of those changes comes in the backs, where there’s a straight swop - Lifeimi Mafi for Danny Barnes - experience probably the deciding factor in what had to be a close call.

In the pack, it’s as you were in the front-row, Damien Varley propped by the South African pairing of Wian du Preez and BJ Botha.

Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross, L Cullen (capt), D Toner, S O’Brien, S Jennings, J Heaslip.

Replacements: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, K McLaughlin, R Ruddock; E Reddan, I Madigan, E O’Malley.

Munster: J Murphy; D Howlett, W Chambers, L Mafi, K Earls; R O’Gara, C Murray; W du Preez, D Varley, BJ Botha; D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell capt; D Ryan, N Ronan, D Leamy.

Replacements: D Fogarty, M Horan, J Hayes, P O’Mahony, J Coughlan, T O’Leary, I Keatley, D Barnes.