When O'Driscoll goes he must be replaced by player Ireland-qualified
Brian O'Driscoll: "He has still got a hell of a lot to offer", says Guy Easterby
A world-class overseas player will not replace Brian O’Driscoll at Leinster next season if the 34-year-old decides not to renew his contract. O’Driscoll will be out of contract with Leinster and Ireland at the end of the season. But if he decides to stop playing, he will be replaced in Leinster with an Irish player.
Because Munster’s Casey Laulala is the designated overseas player wearing the 13 shirt, Leinster would have to look to home-grown talent to fill the position O’Driscoll has held for the province and Ireland since 1999.
“I don’t think we would be allowed get in a world-class centre because of yer man down in Munster. Casey Laulala is covering the position,” said Leinster manager Guy Easterby yesterday at the Leinster training grounds in UCD.
“He (O’Driscoll) is not nailed down. I think a lot of that is down to Brian. Brian was never going to go on for ever. From our point of view he has still got a hell of a lot to offer.
“He will know himself. He has had a new baby only yesterday so God knows how that is going to affect his life. So he has got some big decisions to make. Obviously he’s well aware of them and he is very capable of making them on his own. He is certainly someone we would be keen to have around next year.”
In December 2011 the IRFU decided to regulate the importation of overseas players. Munster, Leinster and Ulster between them will be allowed only one foreign player in a specific position from 2013-14 on. The move is designed to provide more opportunities for young Irish players to gain top-level experience and ensure coaches here have two viable options to pick from when selecting Irish teams.
What it ultimately means is the provinces must prepare more Ireland-eligible players to replace overseas recruits when they go. The situation involving O’Driscoll and Laulala highlights the IRFU imperative perfectly.
“Eoin O’Malley came back on the weekend, he was our 50th player in the Rabo this season and Brendan Macken has had an awful lot of game time and he is beginning to show signs of improvement,” said Easterby.
“Replacing Brian with another Brian is impossible. It is something we are aware of and we just have to get on with that and deal with it. Brian is a mature guy.
“We have been speaking to him constantly about the things that have been coming up in his life and he’s had a couple of injuries this year that he wanted to make sure are right.
“Brian, year on year, has learned about his body and has looked after it. He manages his own body best and there is no better person at doing it.
“Obviously with a baby it is going to change his life. If he was 24 it would not make much difference. But at 34 he has to have time and make up his mind about what’s best for him. But as I say, we would love him around next year.”
Luke Fitzgerald is another player Leinster wish to have in their squad next season. His contract is being negotiated. Having gone through a year of injury, he missed out on selection to the Six Nations squad, but Leinster are working hard to keep the highly-rated back.
“There is no decision to be made in terms of us wanting him to stay,” said Easterby. “That is a process that has started. The injury he had, I guess there was a little bit of uncertainty about how he would come back from that. We think he has come back fantastically and slipped straight back into the team and played some big games.
“He was in the 25 for the weekend so he has done very well to get back so quickly.”
With Johnny Sexton leaving for France, outhalf and secondrow appear to be the positions Leinster are thinking about most. Leo Cullen, a year older than O’Driscoll, is also thought to be considering his future. Leinster will be making an announcement soon on lock Quinn Roux as well as backrow Jordi Murphy.