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Hands off Ruddock, Schmidt tells Reds

IT must be hard for Joe Schmidt and Leinster to focus on the actual task at hand this week -- there is just so much going on.

Ostensibly, yesterday's press conference was about the impending visit of Montpellier to the RDS and the last Heineken Cup hurdle to be negotiated by the champions en route to a home quarter-final.

Of course the coach and his captain Leo Cullen were talking the French side up, which was no surprise after the manner of their escape from their first meeting with the Top 14 finalists on the opening weekend of the competition.

But away from the match itself, there was so much to digest in a week in which Declan Kidney played it safe with his squad selection at the expense of some of Leinster's stars; Cullen's need for ankle surgery leaked into the public domain; Munster were linked with a move for rising star Rhys Ruddock; Jonathan Sexton and Luke Fitzgerald battled for fitness; and Schmidt admitted Shane Horgan's career is in the balance.

Cullen was visibly unhappy with the fact that news of the impending operation on his Achilles tendon had become public.

The 34-year-old was a somewhat surprising inclusion in Kidney's Ireland squad for the Six Nations and, having scheduled surgery for next week in order to return in time for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, the Leinster captain will sit down with both of his coaches after tomorrow's match to decide whether to go ahead with the procedure or play through the pain.

"I've had a bit of an issue for a while now and I saw a specialist about it before Christmas. It's a bit disappointing that it's out in the open now because it was always the plan to get through these European games and then let Declan, Joe and myself reassess next week," he explained.

"For us older players there always seems to be something wrong with the body, but we'll just sit down and put the plan together. The specialist I have seen is top of his field and with that comes some difficulty in getting access.

"At the time it was decided to have an appointment if possible and we'll take it from there.

"The pain is not too bad, I'm getting by. The games are not so much the issue, it's just about managing the training load, that's been the main problem."

News that Munster are attempting to lure Ruddock south was on Schmidt's mind. The Ireland international, who was named in the Wolfhounds squad this week, only signed a one-year extension to his contract last year, but faces plenty of competition for a place in the back-row at Leinster.

The club want to keep the 21-year-old, but his future appears to be far from secure. "I can understand why they're interested in him," Schmidt said.

"We'd obviously be very disappointed to lose Rhys -- he has captained the side seven or eight times and that's a measure of the respect we have for him as a potential leader of the club.

"I think there's a few things that have gone against him this year as far as injury is concerned -- he got a few knocks and it kind of messed with a bit of his rhythm, but I think he came on and had a good impact at the weekend.

"He's had good involvement in both the Pro12 and the Heineken Cup and we'd be delighted if he would continue with us. In defence of Leinster as well, I think Rhys has made really good progress here."

Apart from his own selection headaches, Schmidt had to keep an eye on his Ireland internationals to ensure that their selection -- or non-selection -- wasn't a distraction, with Fitzgerald in particular under scrutiny after he was left out of the 24-man squad.

"They don't tend to bring it into the (Leinster) environment and Luke last time bounced straight back in as soon as he was told he wasn't selected," he said. "He wanted to know what time he was in the next day for Leinster and played accordingly without any hesitation so he could be as good as he could be for the team.

"I think that's pretty much across the board the way it is: I haven't detected any particular disappointment or particular celebrations in the camp, it's relatively short-term focus again because they can't be looking at that when there's one more hurdle to come."

Irish Independent