Friday 15 November 2019

Leo Cullen handed huge boost ahead of Saracens showdown with key trio set to be fit

Head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile
Head coach Leo Cullen. Photo: Sportsfile

Des Berry

It looks like Seán O’Brien, Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath are going to give Leinster a huge boost by being ready for the Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday week.

The blow to the shoulder which forced O’Brien to give up on a late introduction to the Six Nations has turned out to not be as significant as first feared.

The flanker had just returned from almost three months out due to hip surgery.

He was settling into the match against The Scarlets when an impact to his shoulder ended in his precautionary withdrawal. 

The problem for the Tullow Tank is that he will have had just 27 minutes of rugby in three and a half months when the European champions roll into Dublin town. 

There is also the matter of Ruddock’s return from a torn hamstring against Exeter Chiefs in the middle of December.

flying form

The flanker had been in flying form, playing in all three of Ireland’s November internationals, starting against Fiji.  

Initially, the forecast had been gloomy, including the possibility that the loose forward could be finished for the season.

The process of getting off crutches and back onto the field has been quicker than expected.

Ruddock was unsure when asked about his availability for the quarter-final recently.

“Hopefully, I will be back on the field traini ng around that time,” he said.

“I’m just trying to make sure I make every day count because if I lose a day, then, ultimately, it means probably another week away from playing.”

Since then, it would seem the return to play went like clockwork for one of the hardest workers in the club.

It means Leinster should have O’Brien and Ruddock to add to their back row resources.

However, a lot has happened in the last two months and the current form of Ireland’s Dan Leavy, Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan gives coaches Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster the right kind of headache.

There was disquiet at the inclusion of the talented but inexperienced Charlie Rock in Leinster’s squad recently in case it signalled a setback for McGrath

The Ireland international damaged his knee against the Scarlets in mid-February, with the recovery time estimated at approximately one month.

The scrum-half has already made it back to full training and should be included against the Ospreys in the PRO14 League at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday night.     

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At least, this leaves the coaches hands untied, in terms of the three non-European players they have on the roster.

The Cotonou Trade Agreement permits just two players from Australia and/or New Zealand in the 23-man squad for the European Cup.

Cullen will have to make the final decision on which one of Scott Fardy, James Lowe and Jamison Gibson-Park will be sacrificed for the greater good.

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