O'Driscoll may feature in clash with Edinburgh


RUGBY: Despite his guarded assessment of his fitness prior to Christmas, Brian O’Driscoll could be in contention to feature for Leinster against Edinburgh next week.

The Ireland captain last week suggested the end of January was a more realistic timeframe for his comeback from ankle ligament surgery.

But his coach Joe Schmidt said yesterday that O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald are in his plans for PRO12 duty at Murrayfield on January 4th, with a view to a Heineken Cup return against the Scarlets at the RDS on the 12th.

“We’d be pretty confident about Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald getting back for Edinburgh,” the Kiwi told RTÉ television from the Leopardstown Festival yesterday.

Knockout stages

“And there’s a couple of other guys – Richardt Strauss should be back, Isa Nacewa should be back. So, that will hopefully give us a run into the Scarlets game. If we can get five points there we can hang in there and stay in the hunt and anything can happen in Sandy Park against Exeter following that.”

After back-to-back defeats to Clermont Auvergne, Leinster need 10 points from their final two games in Pool 5 (they meet Exeter Chiefs on the 19th) if they are to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.

Two-time European Cup winner Schmidt is all too aware of the task ahead, but insisted the defending champions’ race is not yet run.

“A little bit like any race horse really, unfortunately you can’t win them all but when you are in the race you fancy your chances and even if you are a fair way back you get the whip out and you start working. And I suppose for us that’s what we have to do now after a few losses recently.”

Leinster will look to push themselves back into the top four of the PRO12 tomorrow by maintaining their 100 per cent home record this season with a win over Connacht (7.45pm).

The IRFU’s player welfare programme means they will be without a number of internationals at the RDS, with some frontliners – O’Driscoll and Kearney among them – taking part in Ireland’s two-day training camp at Carton House today and yesterday.

Academy graduate Noel Reid and captain Leo Cullen are expected to be available after taking some punishment in the 25-19 defeat to Ulster at Ravenhill last week, while centre Eoin O’Malley may make a return after recovering from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered last May.

Connacht scrumhalf Kieran Marmion says there is no reason why the province can’t complete a first double over Leinster after their 34-6 win in Galway in September.

The 20-year-old has been one of the discoveries of the season and played a key role that day. Now he wants to end a sensational year on a high, having started it working part-time in the ticket office at the Sportsground before cementing his place in the Connacht side.

The Welsh native, who has been capped for Ireland at U-20 level for the past two seasons, has started all 15 games for Connacht this season and wants to end his breakthrough year by turning over the Heineken Cup champions in their own backyard.

“There is no reason why we can’t. We have shown we can do it already so it is now about backing it up. We need to go there in a positive frame of mind.

“We have to pick ourselves up from the Munster loss and this Leinster game is a really big one for us as we want to get back on track to where we want to be.

“We have the chances to beat Munster but we caused a lot of problems for ourselves. We are creating opportunities but we need to improve our discipline,” said Marmion.

‘Keep improving’

He said that the bonus point win over Leinster was one of the highlights of the season so far, along with the Heineken Cup victory over Biarritz. But the focus now is on improving their league position.

“We are targeting two wins now against Leinster and the Dragons and then hope to head into the two remaining Heineken Cup games in a positive frame of mind.

“But now we need to step it up for 2013 . . . putting in performances,” added Marmion.

Connacht lock Mike McCarthy, who will join Leinster next season, has not been included in extended squad named last night because of Ireland commitments but there may be a debut for 23-year-old wing Matt Healy. Centre Kyle Tonetti has returned to fitness after hamstring treatment in Germany.

Coach Eric Elwood and Leinster’s Schmidt will name their sides at lunchtime today.

CONNACHT SQUAD (v Leinster): B Wilkinson, D Buckley, R Loughney, N White, R Ah You, J Harris Wright, E Reynecke, M Swift, M Kearney, A Browne, J O’Connor, E Grace, E McKeon, G Naoupu, K Marmion, P O’Donohoe, D Parks, M Jarvis, F Vainikolo, M Healy, D McSharry, E Griffin, D Poolman, K Tonetti, T O’Halloran, R Henshaw.

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