McCarthy set to accept Leinster's three-year deal
The injury profile of Irish players is becoming a source of concern, with Munster yesterday clarifying O’Connell’s situation, albeit up to a point, in light of speculation that he was to undergo surgery for the injury this week.
A brief statement read: “Paul O’Connell is undergoing treatment for a lower back complaint. His treatment is progressing satisfactorily. He will see a specialist for further review in the new year”.
O’Connell, Lions captain in South Africa in 2009, has effectively ruled himself out of next summer’s tour to Australia, and Warren Gatland will today confirm the surprising news that Shaun Edwards, defence coach on that last tour, and with whom Gatland has enjoyed huge success at both Wasps and Wales, will not be on his coaching ticket.
Having decided on Graham Rowntree, scrum coach on the South African tour, and England’s Andy Farrell, Gatland has opted for his Welsh attack coach Rob Howley to complete a streamlined coaching staff.
The Lions will play their first game in Hong Kong against the Barbarians a week after both the Rabo PRO 12 and Aviva Premiership finals.
Howley will be in charge of Wales during the Six Nations and it is believed the Welsh RFU wanted him to be head coach on their summer tour of Japan as well. The Welsh, already fearful that Gatland’s Lions’ interregnum might be as damaging as Graham Henry’s was when he took charge of the tourists in Australia in 2001, will now be fretting as to how this might affect the relationship between Gatland and Edwards, who had stated his desire to work with the Lions again next year.
Meanwhile, in light of another hugely influential lock, Ulster captain Johann Muller, being sidelined due to the broken arm he suffered in the bonus-point win away to Northampton last Friday, head coach Mark Anscombe is likely to move Iain Henderson into the secondrow.
The 20-year-old, who played at lock in Ireland’s impressive Under-20 Six Nations and World Cup campaigns, broke into the Ireland squad in the November series as a replacement blindside flanker against South Africa and Argentina. Henderson has also impressively filled in there for Stephen Ferris in Ulster’s pool wins over Castres, Glasgow and Northampton.
Speaking at their base in Newforge yesterday, Anscombe admitted Muller was “a massive loss”. With Saturday’s 11,200 sell-out “a week or two too early” for the injured Lewis Stevenson, Anscombe said Neil McComb and Robbie Diack were also options, but the rapidly emerging Henderson looks by far the likeliest one. This in turn should mean a recall for Nick Williams in the backrow, with McComb on the bench.