O'Connell out for season as Leinster trio set to return
RUGBY: As confirmation arrived that Paul O’Connell will undergo back surgery in the coming days – making it highly unlikely that he will play again this season never mind tour Australia with the Lions next summer – Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are in line to return for Leinster’s trip to Edinburgh on Friday.
O’Driscoll is the favourite to succeed O’Connell as Lions captain in 2013, providing the 126-time capped centre returns to full fitness after ankle surgery in November. Kearney is easing back from his own back operation, while Fitzgerald’s mid-career crisis has been heightened by a worrying neck injury.
However, the Leinster trio will take “graduated contact” in training this week, Joe Schmidt assured us, after Leinster’s 17-0 defeat of Connacht at the RDS on Saturday.
“We’d be quietly confident that we might see Luke, Brian, Dave (Kearney), Rob and Eoin (O’Malley) all training fully next week and available for selection,” said Schmidt.
The seriousness of O’Connell’s injury was highlighted by Munster coach Rob Penney prioritising the 33-year-old’s personal well-being over sporting concerns.
“Whatever happens let’s just hope he’s got full use of his faculties and everything he possesses so he’ll live a normal healthy life. The rugby stuff is secondary,” said Penney after Saturday’s 24-10 victory over Ulster.
Currently in the first of a two-year IRFU contract, O’Connell made a surprise return for the opening rounds of the Heineken Cup in October after a seven-month lay-off due to damaged knee ligaments against France in the Six Nations. After joining up with the Ireland camp ahead of the November internationals, his chronic back problems flared up again.
“It’s been what they’d term a conservative management of his injury and they’ve come to the conclusion that the time now has come to get on the front foot and be more aggressive with treatment,” Penney continued. “The good thing is there is light at the end of the tunnel for the guy.”
Schmidt, meanwhile, may have lost Andrew Conway to injury (leg) but could be able to name his Heineken Cup winning backline.
“I’m really confident about both (Brian and Rob returning) to be honest. Luke as well and Dave and Eoin. The problem I do have is if I do get them back for Edinburgh there is not a lot of time to knit ourselves back together when we have to chase big games against the Scarlets and Exeter away in the following two weeks. It would be nice to get a run in for those guys challenging for spots but it is not a perfect world unfortunately.
“I’d love to have a really good headache this week, because I’ve had some bad headaches in recent weeks. So it would be a bit of a luxury.”
Isa Nacewa, having damaged an old arm injury against Clermont two weeks ago, is due to return for the Scarlets’ visit to Dublin on January 12th in round five of the Heineken Cup.
“It is some deep bone bruising where the plate was and so and he was in a fair bit of discomfort. We want to allow it to heal fully, otherwise you get bone bruising on bone bruising and he is going to really feel that.
“Isa fits in so easily I wouldn’t have too many fears about him coming straight in for Scarlets or Exeter, whichever the case may be, as long as he is fit.”
“As long as he is fit” – a six-word sentence that has summed up the Irish rugby landscape in 2012. With the Six Nations just five weeks away, Ulster will not have Tommy Bowe (knee surgery) or Stephen Ferris (ankle surgery) available for their return to European action on January 11th, which also seriously restricts their chances of making the Ireland squad or the Lions for that matter.