Leinster nightmare continues with Norton injury fall

Kieran Rooney

JUST when they thought that nothing else could possibly go wrong, Leinster have lost full-back James Norton in a freak accident prior to tonight's Celtic League clash with Connacht at Donnybrook (7.30).

Norton, who can also play on the wing, sustained a broken hip after slipping on a step while out walking between Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove on Wednesday. He fell some 20 feet.

Fortunately, an operation is not, it seems, required, but the unlucky Norton is now expected to be out for a couple of months.

Not exactly the sort of news that coach Gary Ella was hoping for after losing prop John Lyne and flanker Aidan McCullen with broken bones in last Friday night's defeat by Cardiff.

Lyne will be sidelined for a couple of months with a fractured fibula while McCullen is expected to be out for six weeks because of a broken bone in his right arm. Throw in skipper Leo Cullen's shoulder problems, which will soon require an operation sidelining him for six months, and you are left in no doubt as to the extent of Leinster's misfortunes.

Cullen will at least be able to captain Leinster tonight. Despite the possibility of the shoulder popping out again, he has decided to play, before taking advice next week as to exactly when he should undergo the operation.

Such is the injury crisis that Leinster have had to call former Irish full-back Peter McKenna out of representative retirement to sit on the bench tonight.

With 11 players away on World Cup duty and some eight more being treated for injuries, coach Ella found himself in the unlikely situation of participating as the second scrum-half for part of yesterday's training session.

The reason for this was that Brian O'Riordan is nursing a knock, and the third choice scrum-half Derek Hegarty is out injured. This left Brian O'Meara as the only scrum-half able to train.

Even so, O'Riordan has been named in Leinster's replacements for tonight with O'Meara starting in the No 9 jersey. It's a vastly changed Leinster team.

With Gordon D'Arcy and now Norton absent, Brendan Burke will now feature in the No 15 jersey after previously playing on the wing. Gary Brown goes from the centre to the left-wing and James Downey comes into the centre.

In the pack Emmett Byrne switches to loose-head, allowing Peter Coyle come in at tight-head, while Niall Breslin gets McCullen's spot in the back-row. In the circumstances, Connacht will undoubtedly fancy their chances.

They, after all, have made a cracking start to the season, while bottom of the table Leinster have won just once. What's more, Connacht managed to beat an altogether stronger Leinster combination 26-23 at the same venue last season.

Even so, coach Ella refuses to be too downhearted. "The spirit is still high. Sure, these are very testing times, and we are up against a very good Connacht side, but we will still go into the game confident we can win," he said.

Just as Leinster have major injuries so do Munster, who take on Gwent Dragons, coached by former Leinster coach Mike Ruddock, at Rodney Parade tonight (7.05).

Gwent's victory over Glasgow last weekend suggests that Munster have a difficult assignment. Astonishingly, Munster have not won since the opening match of their campaign.

Ulster, at home to another Welsh club Celtic Warriors at Ravenhill (7.30) are the exact opposite. They are undefeated since losing to Neath/Swansea Ospreys first time out. It's a winning run they should undoubtedly extend this evening.

LEINSTER (v Connacht) - B Burke; J McWeeney, J Downey, D Quinlan, G Brown; M Leek, B O'Meara; E Byrne, G Hickie, P Coyle, L Cullen (capt), B Gissing, N Breslin, D Dillon, S Jennings.

CONNACHT - M McHugh; M Mostyn, D Yapp, T Allnutt (capt), C McPhillips; E Elwood, C Keane; R Hogan, B Jackman, F Boiroux, D Browne, A Farley, M Swift, J O'Sullivan, T Carter.

ULSTER (v Celtic Warriors) - B Cunningham; S Young, S Mallon, S Stewart, T Howe; A Larkin, K Campbell; R McCormack, P Shields, R Moore, M Mustchin, M McCullough, A Ward (capt), T McWhirter, N Best.

CELTIC WARRIORS - E Lewis; G Wyatt, S James, J Bryant, R Mustoe; N Jenkins, A Chiltern; P Booth, M Rees, C Horsman, D Jones, N Budgett, R Parks, R Bryan (capt), C Harris.

MUNSTER (v Gwent Dragons) - D Crotty; S Payne, M Mullins, C O'Sullivan, M Lawlor; J Staunton, E Reddan; S Keane, A Long, J Danagher, T Hogan, D Sheehan, S Keogh, J Williams (capt), D Wallace.

GWENT DRAGONS - S Tuipulotu; G Arasa, J Luscombe, A Marinos (capt), B Breeze; C Warlow, G Baber; A Black, S Jones, C Anthony, I Gough, P Sidoli, J Ringer, R Oakley, J Forster.