O'Connor backs stars to stay
Leinster boss bullish despite fresh injury woe for O'Brien
Leinster coach Matt O'Connor has bullishly declared his confidence that both Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien will not be lured to French rugby -- but O'Brien's season could be over after complications arose during surgery on his dislocated shoulder.
Both Irish back-rows remain live flight risks from Irish rugby and they are believed to be engaging in further talks with French sides this weekend.
However, O'Brien's move could be jeopardised by this latest setback.
The player had hoped to undergo keyhole shoulder surgery with a view to returning to action in late March, but instead the open surgery required could mean he faces a race if he is to play any part in Leinster's end-of-season European and Pro12 title tilts.
"He is probably out for months as opposed to weeks," revealed O'Connor. "It was a little bit more serious as they couldn't do an arthroscopic procedure, they had to open him up which probably adds another month to it.
"It's going to be in and around the four-, five-month mark. That will have to be worked out with the surgeons and everything else."
O'Brien began a new back-room role with the Carlow footballers on Wednesday evening, one manager Anthony Rainbow confirmed would last several months, which has led some to believe that he may be leaning towards the rejection of a move abroad, although Heaslip's thoughts remain unclear.
"We're confident in relation to backing an environment which is capable of winning things, of backing an environment that looks after the players very well and gives them the best chance to be as good as they can be," added O'Connor."
"Sean, Jamie and others have got a decision to make whether they want to be a part of that. At this stage I'd be confident that both of them want to be here.
The Leinster boss could receive an unexpected lift for Sunday's showdown with Castres, with unconfirmed reports that Cian Healy could make a dramatic return from injury.
The dynamic loosehead prop had surgery on an ankle injury which he picked up in training prior to the Heineken Cup victory over Northampton in early december.
Healy was expected to miss Ireland's opening two games in the Six Nations, so his early return would be another big boost for Irish coach Joe Schmidt, who will be delighted that Simon Zebo, Conor Murray and Keith Earls are all back in Heineken Cup action this weekend.
Rory Best has also made a swifter than expected return from a fractured wrist and features in Ulster's team to face Montpellier in Ravenhill this evening.
Ulster announced yesterday that Declan Fitzpatrick has penned a new two-year deal and that Stephen Ferris has been granted another short-team deal as he continues his battle to save his career.