O'Driscoll and Schmidt both step gingerly as they weigh up the good and bad of it all
Leinster v Scarlets: Coach's reactionWhether we are on the cusp of yet another Brian O’Driscoll saga says more about the past that the near future.
Leinster’s injury calls in recent months have demanded caution. While he stuck it out to the end of the game, O’Driscoll, having come on for the reborn Luke Fitzgerald, picked up another ankle issue in the side’s target-driven match.
However, if visual expression can give truth to story there was little in the face of an “almost satisfied” Joe Schmidt to send injury terror around the RDS.
Then again Schmidt has been here before. Although assured by the Ireland centre he is alright, we should perhaps exercise caution this time around until the medical team assesses the most famous pair of pins in the game.
“It was his other ankle, that’s his good ankle,” said Schmidt. “He has just assured me that it’s fine but he did that last time so . . . you know. . . I tell you what though, he’s one of the most mentally tough players I’ve ever had anything to do with and it doesn’t have to be fine for him to play.”
O’Driscoll knows how to listen to the stress creaks and moans of his joints and whether they can function for a match, struggle or not, to his exacting level. But Schmidt knows too there could be a note of frustration, even desperation lacing the self-prognosis.
The Six Nations just around the corner and the possibility of a last Lions hurrah comes into the equation as much as Exeter at the weekend.
“He’s tough,” added Schmidt. “He’s really experienced, he knows his own body, he knows what he can push through; last time he tried to push through it and he came straight off. This time he felt it was getting better every time he took a step on it, that’s a really good sign for an ankle.
“A lot of guys when you’ve done an ankle a lot of times, it only takes five or six minutes, that ligament inevitably gets loose because you’ve strained it a number of times, you feel a discomfort but not for a long time. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase about walking it off or jogging it off and you know he felt he was running it off and it was getting better with every minute he stayed on the pitch.”
So he’s good to go in next week’s second instalment of the Leinster Late Late Show?
“Look, I can only say he’s not worried about himself,” said the coach. “I worry about everyone all the time. I suppose that’s my job.”
An array of possibilities awaits analysis. But the truth is Leinster remain vulnerable to an early exit, even after a five-try win executed with a swiftness that ignored the promise to build slowly through the phases and squeeze a result.
From Schmidt’s viewpoint, the win could have had more benefits. A close but no cigar match.
“There already are [regrets],” he said. “There were two more (tries) we should have got. There was one more that I felt there was good space and the ball was knocked down.
“There’s a bit of frustration but the reality is we’ve got what we’ve got, we are where we are. You’ve just got to be pragmatic and say this is what we can control, this is what we can plan to do, and then try to execute it.
“I think both teams were a bit battered and bruised after. It’ll be a few days of recoveries and then we’ll try to look, do some calculations and feel a little bit disappointed, a little bit vulnerable and try to focus on what we can control.”
In that vein he will watch the rugby but eschew the calculator and crystal ball. There is an unfussy simplicity about needs in Exeter; a bonus point win, one that injected urgency from the very start against Llanelli.
“I know teams probably wouldn’t write us off yet because we don’t know what happens next,” said Schmidt.
“What I’d love to see is we get five points and somebody comes under pressure. But I’ve got massive respect for Exeter, Rob Baxter for what he’s done there, the quality of the player he’s got and the collective there, so we’ll come up with a plan.
“We had one today – we didn’t stick to it at all – and it worked out okay and we’ll come up with another plan that will last at least until kick-off . . . then we’ll chase our tails and see what we can do.”