Schmidt focused on the centre, not Ireland

Question marks over who will fill in at 13 with injuries to Macken and O’Malley

Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt and prop Mike Ross during training at UCD. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho

Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt and prop Mike Ross during training at UCD. Photograph: Lorraine O'Sullivan/Inpho

Tue, Apr 2, 2013, 07:04

Outside centre, the one position Leinster coaches have never lost a moment of sleep thinking about these past 14 years, is keeping Joe Schmidt awake at night.

With a chance for a European semi and final run-in at the RDS still up for grabs, Isa Nacewa is currently the front runner to wear number 13 against Wasps at Adams Park this Friday in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final.

The IRFU couldn’t make a case for appealing Brian O’Driscoll’s three week suspension for stamping but the situation got worse over the weekend with Brendan Macken ruled out for six weeks and Eoin O’Malley struggling to recover from last season’s traumatic knee injury.

Macken broke a metacarpal bone hitting the first ruck of Saturday’s 22-18 defeat to Ulster before being replaced on 36 minutes. O’Malley’s latest injury problem, while not definitely ruled out, is a genuine concern.

“I’m not hopeful to be honest,” Schmidt admitted yesterday. “Eoin’s a super, super young player. He was on fire last year before he got the first couple of injuries and then he got injured in the Rabo semi-final. He might make it and maybe try to train on Wednesday and that will determine who’s available on Friday.”

On return from injury, O’Malley was immediately promoted to the Irish training squad but there remains a fear that, as Luke Fitzgerald proved, immediate exposure to high intensity rugby may provoke a relapse.

“It’s a bit of residue from that original injury where he had a crush fracture at the top of the femur and blew out the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and it was a fairly traumatic injury so he’s had a few calf problems since then and I think that's probably over-compensation and we just haven’t had him quite right. Even against Glasgow he muscled up and just got through the game, a little bit like Brendan Macken playing with a broken hand for 30 minutes. It does mean they're sub-par and that’s something you can't afford to be at this time of year.”

The “injury hex” may force Schmidt to switch the outgoing Nacewa to the position he played when the Kiwi pair went through their first incarnation of coach-player relationship in Auckland.

Nacewa switched to outside centre against Ulster, but Fergus McFadden and Gordon D’Arcy have both featured in the O’Driscoll role during this campaign.

Jonathan Sexton will also endeavour to train fully tomorrow, but it remains unlikely he will recover from the torn tendon in his foot.

“I haven’t gone past him completely for this game,” said Schmidt. “If it’s not this weekend then I would say it would either be Munster or Zebre.

Andrew Goodman will continue as outhalf cover behind Madigan despite Schmidt noting the progress of former St Michael’s schoolboy Cathal Marsh, who will feature for Leinster A in the British and Irish Cup in Bristol on Sunday.

With more information expected on Declan Kidney's future this week, Schmidt was asked about becoming the next Ireland coach.

“I have enough problems on my plate, some of them self made with the guys we have at the moment and I tell you my head is wrecked with that stuff. Whenever we lose I don’t get a lot of sleep so it is not something I have thought about but I know that Declan will still be in the mix and until anything is sorted from that perspective, I am not a massive fan of conjecture.

“Anyway, I’m here at Leinster next year and that keeps my hands pretty full.”