Schmidt hoping to see star centre return for business end of season
WHILE Declan Kidney and Ireland have a few months to prepare for life without Brian O'Driscoll for at least the Six Nations campaign, Leinster coach Joe Schmidt's problem is much more immediate.
On Saturday, the European champions head to Montpellier to face last season's beaten Top 14 finalists in their Heineken Cup opener.
And yesterday's confirmation that O'Driscoll could be out for "up to six months" with a trapped nerve in his shoulder that requires surgery means Leinster will have to be involved in the business end of the Pro12 or European Cup if O'Driscoll is to play for his province this season.
"(The operation) has been pending for a while but we have pursued the best advice and we've checked up on more advice to try and make sure that what is going to be done is the best and most beneficial course of action," said Schmidt.
"Brian is going to have some surgery and in the meantime we'll try and keep ticking over, and hopefully he'll have something to come back to in the end."
Even in the absence of O'Driscoll and the versatile and experienced Shane Horgan, who is looking at four months out after an operation on his knee, Leinster have options in midfield.
Gordon D'Arcy's continued fitness takes on a heightened significance and he partnered Fergus McFadden in Friday night's win over Munster as Leinster named a strong side ahead of their Heineken Cup opener.
However, Eoin O'Malley deputised for the Ireland captain in the pool stages of this competition last year and won many admirers for his performance away to Clermont when he and D'Arcy did enough against the significantly bigger pair of Aurelien Rougerie and Gonzalo Canale to secure a crucial losing bonus point.
Schmidt also agreed yesterday that shifting Luke Fitzgerald to centre, where he lined out for Leinster immediately after his shock omission from the World Cup squad, is also a live option, with Dave Kearney or Fionn Carr coming in on the wing.
"We will try (those combinations) out over the next few days at training here and we'll see just who's up and on form," said the Kiwi. "Hopefully we'll get that decision right and they'll get the performance right and we'll be happy enough with what we do."
O'Driscoll first suffered with the injury during last season's Six Nations and admitted that, despite taking a number of cortisone injections over the course of the tournament, it hindered him during the World Cup.
"I probably initially started feeling it in the Six Nations this year with certain collisions, or when collisions came and I wasn't expecting it. Sometimes you'd get hit off the ball or when team-mates are passing you by and you weren't expecting it.
"Those sort of jolts -- when you are not ready for them -- they can have more of an impact on you.
"It wasn't just a case of being able to deal with the pain, it's when you have loss of movement and power. It goes and comes back and I'm not playing at 100pc and I can't continue to do that for a full season.
"It was there in the background (during the World Cup) and I was trying to manage myself a bit but I knew that I couldn't carry on for a full season. I was lucky to have gotten through certain parts of the World Cup, albeit I did improve doing that.
"From a medical point of view it wasn't a case of not being fit to play. I wasn't in any danger, I just had to be able to deal with a fair bit of discomfort and at times a lack of power."
And while the length of rehabilitation should become clearer after next week's operation, O'Driscoll, who wore an earpiece on the sideline during the win over Munster, insisted that he will stay around the squad.
"I still think I have a little bit to offer with regard to bits of advice and I'll be waterboy again this weekend -- just being able to get that information across and I suppose have my tuppence worth as well," he said.
"I'm not going to just vanish from the set-up -- I'm a professional player and you do whatever you can to help the team to success."