Lions set to roar at the RDS
O’Driscoll, Heaslip and Warburton in line for seasonal returns as Leinster host Cardiff
Jamie Heaslip and Brian O’Driscoll on duty with the Lions during the summer series in Australia. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
A quintet of the summer’s Lions series winners are set to renew acquaintances this Friday in the RDS which should see the seasonal reappearance of two Lions’ captains in Brian O’Driscoll and Cardiff’s Sam Warburton, as well as last season’s Irish captain Jamie Heaslip.
O’Driscoll and Heaslip make delayed returns as part of the post-Lions, Irish player welfare programme, while Warburton returns five weeks ahead of schedule from the torn hamstring he suffered in the second Test against the Wallabies.
Heaslip will probably start too and Matt O’Connor is keen to relaunch O’Driscoll’s final season. “The skill sets of those guys and the experience they bring to the match-day 23 gives you so many more options because they’ve done it before, they’ve got a broader skills set and it changes the dynamics of the group,” said the Leinster coach. “Now we’ll be looking to bring some of those characteristics to the game plan in the coming weeks . . . .”
Warburton’s return is even more remarkable and timely for the Blues and their coach Phil Davies after they became the first team ever to lose to Zebre in the latter’s 31 competitive games to date at the Arms Park last Friday.
“He was knocking the door down to play which is fantastic,” said Davies of Warburton. “He wanted to play. He has done a phenomenal job and the physios and medical department need huge congratulations. I think he’s maybe five weeks ahead of schedule. That’s down to his diligence and the medical team’s work.”
Madigan’s reappearance at outhalf since starting his first two Tests in the North American summer tour have been delayed by Leinster’s casualty list in the outside three, giving new recruit Jimmy Gopperth a head start and leaving Madigan with ground to make up.
Asked if there was pressure to have Madigan reacquainted with the role, O’Connor said: “From a team perspective no, because Jimmy’s done a really good job for us. From a personal perspective he (Madigan) needs to be in there and he needs to play. He’s still relatively inexperienced in relation to being the first-up guy starting in that shirt. It takes a bit of adjustment to that. We’ll be patient with him. He sets himself really high standards . . . .”
Joe Schmidt will be watching on a tad anxiously, as Madigan has one game, or maybe two, to force his way into Leinster’s starting Heineken Cup line-up.
“It’s a matter of horses for courses,” said O’Connor. “It’s what we think, week-on-week, will get us the best result at the weekend. If we need a little bit more experience and need to look at using Jimmy, depending on who we’re playing, we’ll do that.
“If we think there is an opportunity for Ian’s skills’ set to give us a better opportunity to win the game we will probably go with that. As I say, those guys will be involved in the game, in the 23, every week. It is not like they are in and out of the group. They will be contributing regardless of whether they are starting or on the bench.”
Shane Jennings will miss the next few weeks with a fractured hand, but Lote Tuqiri (hamstring strain) is making “good progress” and could be in the frame for Friday. O’Connor expressed the hope that Fergus McFadden and Sean O’Brien will return for the Munster game on Saturday week “if not sooner”, while Luke Fitzgerald, Quinn Roux and Darragh Fanning are also in a similar timeframe. Ticket sales, which have already exceeded 14,000 for Friday’s game, are liable to swell further given so many Lions are set to roar.