Massive boost as O'Driscoll expected back for Blues' trip to Edinburgh
Ireland's Six Nations chances have been given a massive boost after the revelation that talismanic captain Brian O'Driscoll is in line for an earlier than expected comeback from injury.
The midfield maestro had earlier this month ruled out a return before Ireland's tricky Six Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff on February 2.
However, having only returned to training 10 days ago, he has yet again demonstrated his renowned ability for speedy rehabilitation, this time from ankle ligament surgery, which he underwent two months ago.
And Leinster coach Joe Schmidt – the man who O'Driscoll claims is "the most respected" coach he has ever worked for – has revealed that the 33-year-old is on course to return for the Pro12 trip to Edinburgh on January 4.
This will be a huge boost for coach Declan Kidney in his bid to avert a fourth successive defeat against the Welsh as he is already resigned to being without Tommy Bowe, Stephen Ferris and Paul O'Connell.
Schmidt offered further encouragement on injured duo Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald as well, stating that they are also due to return next week.
"We'd be confident of Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald getting back for Edinburgh," he said.
Should this trio emerge unscathed from their comeback outings against the Scottish side, then they should also be on hand for Leinster's ambitious bid to keep alive their Heineken Cup hat-trick hopes.
After losing back-to-back games against Clermont, Leinster are struggling to reach the quarter-finals as they await their final two group games next month.
As Kidney's squad complete their two-day international camp get-together at Carton House today, the mood will have been significantly brightened after Schmidt's upbeat bulletin.
Only a week ago, O'Driscoll had delivered a relatively downbeat assessment of his Six Nations chances. "I'm due to come back and play towards the end of January. I'm hoping to be back before that, but I don't know," he said.
Ireland have suffered a terrible recent run of results against Wales, with successive Six Nations defeats sandwiching a World Cup quarter-final defeat in Wellington in 2011.
Ireland were forced to endure the November series without six of their leading internationals – including O'Driscoll, Kearney, O'Connell and Ferris – but they managed to cling on to their top-eight world ranking ahead of the World Cup draw earlier this month.
Although Leinster are hoping to welcome back their latest clutch of injured players next week, they are likely to be bereft of a host of players ahead of tomorrow's Pro12 clash against Connacht in the RDS due to IRFU player management issues.
Meanwhile, O'Driscoll has claimed that Schmidt has been "the most respected coach" he has ever played under during his illustrious player.
Despite being overlooked for backs' coaching roles with both Ireland and, most controversially, by Warren Gatland's 2013 Lions tourists to Australia, Kiwi Schmidt earned gushing praise from O'Driscoll.
"My current coach in Leinster, from a coaching aspect, has been unrivalled," O'Driscoll said in a promotional fans video for Lions ambassadors HSBC released yesterday. "From a learning, day-to-day point of view, I look forward to going in, because I know he's going to say something new."
O'Driscoll was also asked to name the best leader of men he has played with and the 33-year-old had no hesitation in plumping for Leinster's current two-time Heineken Cup-winning captain.
"My current captain in Leinster, Leo Cullen," said O'Driscoll. "He marries what he does on the pitch with what he says and also for the cool, calm collected way he delivers the message."
Cullen is due to captain Leinster in his 100th league appearance when he leads the side out in the RDS tomorrow.
Leinster, who slipped to sixth place in the Pro12 table following the two Welsh derbies on St Stephen's Day, need to win to keep their play-off hopes bubbling ahead of the Heineken Cup resumption.