Tuesday 21 January 2020

Leinster look to cool great expectations over returning midfield hero

Brian O'Driscoll
Brian O'Driscoll
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster supporters have been warned to play down their expectations as a near sell-out RDS crowd prepares to acclaim Brian O'Driscoll for the first time in blue colours this season in tonight's Pro12 clash against Ospreys.

The Ireland captain has made a remarkably speedy recovery from the shoulder surgery he underwent following last year's World Cup and Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has thrown him straight into the starting line-up for tonight's clash.

"I'm very excited to be back," O'Driscoll said yesterday. "Lungs -- get ready to work hard!"

O'Driscoll returns to a Leinster side whose 20-match unbeaten record is comfortably the best of any top-flight side since the game turned professional. But they are eager to dampen any hype following such a long lay-off for their midfield maestro.

"He seems to be in a good frame of mind," said Leinster assistant coach Richie Murphy as the league leaders seek to take one step nearer qualification for a home semi-final.

"One thing that's important to remember is that he hasn't played all season, he's only coming back. So the expectation for him coming back on Friday will be difficult for him.

glimpses

"It will take him a bit of time to get up to speed -- but it definitely looks like there's glimpses of what we know he can do at training. He's just been very professional in terms of his approach to his rehab. He's done everything that has been asked of him."

Such is O'Driscoll's stature, it's easy to overlook other positive omens as Leinster begin ramping up their now seemingly annual twin trophy assault.

Leo Cullen, whose decision to opt out of Ireland's shambolic Six Nations campaign seems to become even wiser by the minute, will captain the side for the first time since January after recovering from Achilles surgery.

And he will lock down with none other than All Black World Cup winner Brad Thorn, who makes his official debut for Leinster.

All this and another chance to see Fergus McFadden's improving attempts to master the inside-centre role, Luke Fitzgerald's rehabilitation and a bench filled with eight Irish-qualified players.

The visitors may house the latest Grand Slam medals, but Leinster should put the smile back into Irish rugby this evening.

Verdict: Leinster

Leinster -- I Nacewa; D Kearney, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, L Fitzgerald; I Madigan, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, N White; L Cullen (capt), B Thorn; R Ruddock, D Ryan, L Auva'a.

Reps: S Cronin, J McGrath, J Hagan, D Browne, K McLaughlin, J Cooney, E O'Malley, F Carr.

Ospreys -- R Fussell; H Dirksen, A Bishop, A Beck, E Walker; D Biggar, K Fotuali'i; P James, R Hibbard, A Jarvis; R Jones, A Wyn Jones (capt); T Smith, G Stowers, J Tipuric. Reps: S Baldwin, R Bevington, A Jones, I Evans, J King, R Webb, M Morgan, T Isaacs.

REF -- P Fitzgibbon (Ireland).

Leinster v Ospreys,

Live, RTE 2, 7.05

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