Serious concerns for O’Driscoll ahead of autumn internationals

Mike Ross faces a late fitness call for Leinster’s weekend game against Castres

 Brian O’Driscoll. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Brian O’Driscoll. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Fri, Oct 18, 2013, 10:33

Serious concerns surround the availability of tighthead prop Mike Ross and Ireland’s most capped player Brian O’Driscoll ahead of the autumn international campaign.

Ross, almost certainly, and O’Driscoll definitely won’t feature for Leinster against French Top 14 champions Castres at the RDS tomorrow (kick-off 3.40pm).

O’Driscoll’s torn calf was labelled a grade one tear, which usually takes seven to 10 days to heal, but he hasn’t played since picking up the injury in the wake of the Cardiff game on September 27th.

Joe Schmidt’s Ireland open their season against Samoa on November 9th with Australia and New Zealand coming to Dublin the following weekends.

Yesterday Leinster coach Matt O’Connor, when confirming the absence of O’Driscoll, Lote Tuqiri (hamstring) and Zane Kirchner (rested), refused to completely rule out Ross despite the 33-year-old pulling his hamstring just 18 minutes into last Saturday’s 19-9 victory over the Ospreys in Swansea.

“We’ll wait and see with Mike,” said O’Connor. “He has recovered, he is better but you don’t want to risk a re-strain. We’ll take that decision closer to kick-off and see where he gets to.”

Performed well
Martin Moore came in and performed well at scrum time but O’Connor also confirmed that Irish international Michael Bent is also fit to return.

There is an agreement with Schmidt to allow international players play in next week’s Pro 12 match against Connacht before they go into national camp.

“It’s not about handing them over and wiping our hands of them because that’s not the way it works but their needs to be a bit of co-operation with that,” said O’Connor.

“The bottom line is we want them fit. If that means fit for us or fit for Ireland it doesn’t really matter. We want them fit as soon as possible.”

On O’Driscoll, O’Connor added: “He is still struggling with that calf but the medics are pretty confident he’ll be involved some time soon. It’s a little bit loose. Calf strains are calf strains. It is ticking the box day on day to see where he gets to. We hope he plays next week. He may or may not. It is yet to be determined.

“It is certainly not going to be months but who knows?”

Not in consideration
Kirchner is not in consideration due to his heavy schedule with South Africa during the Rugby Championship and selecting him would mean dropping a candidate for the Ireland back three.

Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney were Rob Kearney’s wings against the Ospreys while Luke Fitzgerald replaced Brendan Macken with 11 minutes remaining. McFadden went to outside centre and Fitzgerald onto the wing.

“Zane is adjusting to Dublin and Leinster and everything else. There is no need with Rob and the back three going the way they are to rush him into anything but he will be involved really shortly,” said O’Connor.

Club captain Leo Cullen is another still in rehabilitation, due to an Achilles problem, but Shane Jennings (hand fracture) returned to training this week and could be ready for Connacht.

All told, the removal of Cullen, Jennings, O’Driscoll and Jonathan Sexton’s departure means a renovated on-field leadership group, led by Jamie Heaslip, is now in place. “It’s a pretty experienced group even still,” said O’Connor. “The striking thing about the group is how much they care about winning.

“You would love to have those senior guys who have 100 plus tests and 100 plus provincial caps but the reality was at Swansea we didn’t. But everybody stood up and was counted. That’s what we are going to need on Saturday, that’s what the Heineken Cup is about, quality sides in the premier competition, you got to have blokes who will stick their hands up.

Expectation is so high
“It’s a pretty leader-full environment to be fair because the expectation is so high and the guys standards are so high, everybody drives their own bits. That was pretty pleasing the other night. Everybody delivered what they were supposed to deliver on. If we get that on Saturday we will be in a pretty good place.”

Leinster also announced yesterday the renewal of their partnership with CityJet for another three years. “It’s been a great relationship for us,” said chief executive Mick Dawson. “In the Rabo we do a lot of travelling and to have the facility to take the players in comfort makes a huge difference for recovery as we are able to get home on the night of matches.”

Centrally contracted players
Meanwhile, Leinster chief executive Dawson has declared the province’s satisfaction with the IRFU engaging centrally contracted players, like Jamie Heaslip and Seán O’Brien, earlier than negotiations began with Jonathan Sexton last season.

“[The negotiations] did start earlier than previous contracts and I’m very encouraged the way the union has gone about their business,” said Dawson. “I suppose it does attract attention, we much prefer to do it quietly, but I hope it is going the right way.”

Last January Simon Zebo re-signed with Munster on a three-year deal, something several players have said they would prefer, rather than the two-year deals the union have historically offered.

“The union protocols are well established and we understand the rules,” Dawson continued. “We discussed it all the time with the union and think it is going quite well at the moment.”