Sport Rugby

Sunday 10 December 2017

Brian O'Driscoll's calf injury woe a major concern for Schmidt

Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor was unable to confirm when Brian O'Driscoll will be fully fit
Leinster head coach Matt O'Connor was unable to confirm when Brian O'Driscoll will be fully fit
David Kelly

David Kelly

Brian O'Driscoll will be missing again for Leinster in the Heineken Cup this weekend – and coach Matt O'Connor was unable to confirm whether the centre will be fully fit for Ireland's November internationals.

O'Driscoll will have missed both Leinster's Heineken Cup games so far this season and, although O'Connor tentatively mooted a return to action against Connacht tomorrow week, he was unwilling to nail down a date for his star player's return.

"Brian won't play this week," O'Connor (right) confirmed ahead of tomorrow's RDS clash with French champions Castres. "He's still struggling with that calf. The medics are pretty confident that he'll be back involved some time soon.

"It's a little bit loose. Calf strains are calf strains and it's about ticking boxes day on day just to see where he gets to. He can't play this week, we hope he plays next week. It's yet to be determined. It's certainly not going to be months, but who knows?"

The uncertainty is a worry for new Ireland coach Joe Schmidt ahead of November's Tests against Samoa, Australia and New Zealand.

Shane Jennings and new signing Zane Kirchner are also unlikely to be involved for Leinster until that Connacht match.

However, it is hoped that tighthead Mike Ross should return tomorrow after being forced off with hamstring trouble last week. Michael Bent may also be able to return to the bench when the team is named today.

Jimmy Gopperth has received a vote of confidence from O'Connor and the 30-year-old will again edge Ian Madigan for the out-half role.

"Jimmy is a great player," said O'Connor.

Heineken Cup champions Toulon have broken ranks with their Anglo-French club rivals and maintained that they will not play in the proposed breakaway Rugby Champions Cup, writes David Kelly.

President and multi-millionaire benefactor Mourad Boudjellal is angered by what he calls "abject, reactionary and racist" actions on the part of the Ligue Nationale de Rugby (LNR).

At a press conference yesterday, he said his club "will take part in the 2014-15 Heineken Cup, as its organisers European Rugby Cup do not demand quotas on foreign players".

The LNR recently announced plans to impose increased restrictions on the number of foreign players in the French clubs' squads.

The LNR will offer financial incentives to clubs that maintain a squad of more than 55pc French-trained players by 2017, including non-Frenchmen who have spent three seasons in a club's academy system.

The current Toulon squad is back-boned by expensively recruited foreign players like Jonny Wilkinson, Bryan Habana, Bakkies Botha and Matt Giteau.

Boudjellal is a controversial figure within French rugby, and although his threat may encourage those attempting to retain the Heineken Cup in its present format, he may also be angling for political leverage for selfish reasons in an attempt to reverse the LNR plans.

Leinster optimistic over O'Brien,  Heaslip talks

"But they're both incredibly important players to the group, and does it mean that Ian is out of the equation? Certainly not, he's a quality footballer.

"He's still learning his trade and he's delivered for the team this season and historically, so we'll just approach it week to week."

Leinster chief executive Mick Dawson has admitted he is encouraged that the IRFU have initiated talks with star players Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien as they seek to stave off interest from French clubs.

"The IRFU have engaged with both of them," he said. "They want them to stay. There's an offer on the table for Jamie and we've opened negotiations with (O'Brien's agent) Fintan Drury but it hasn't come to anything yet."

Munster will name their team today for the must-win clash against Gloucester in Thomond Park tomorrow night.

Johne Murphy is expected to replace the injured Simon Zebo on the wing, with Damian Varley, BJ Botha and Peter O'Mahony all standing by for selection after coach Rob Penney vowed this week to shake up the side beaten in Edinburgh last weekend.

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