Leinster in market for hooker as Strauss to undergo heart surgery

Injured Tuqiri’s short-term contract may come under review


Following confirmation that Richardt Strauss will miss the rest of this season after heart surgery, Leinster have been forced into the market for a hooker. A recruitment process to replace the 27-year-old Ireland international is underway.

“We are in the process of looking at what the options are and talking to the [IRFU],” said head coach Matt O’Connor at Leinster training yesterday.

“Thankfully, we’ve got two fit boys [Seán Cronin and Aaron Dundon] but we will be looking at solving that pretty quickly.”

Cronin will start at two in Saturday’s opening Heineken Cup Pool game against the Ospreys at Liberty stadium.

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Considering the hooking slots at the other three provinces are filled by Ireland-qualified players, Leinster are within their rights to sign an overseas player.

Talented kids
"Yeah, we do need another body," O'Connor continued. "There are a couple of talented kids, James Tracy and Bryan Byrne are good players, but we'll see what the options are."

Strauss’s period of recovery is unknown but O’Connor was keen to stress the main concern was the player’s well being.

“He was in for some routine tests and in that they found he had a small hole in his heart. It’s been there since birth and needs a minor procedure to repair that – if there is such a thing in relation to your heart.

“Off the back of the complications with heart [surgery] he’ll be on anti-clotting medication for a period of time before we can reintroduce him to contact.

“Because it is all fairly new we haven’t locked away any time frame at this stage.”

Born in Pretoria, Strauss moved to Dublin in 2009 as an IRFU project player, having struggled to make a sustained impact with the Cheetahs behind his cousin and current Springbok hooker Adriaan Strauss.

He wasn’t long becoming established as Leinster’s starting hooker and on completing his three-year residency, made his Test debut, ironically, against South Africa at the Aviva stadium last November, in direct opposition to his cousin.

“The specialist is really confident he will make a full recovery.”

Coming off this and the 19-15 defeat to Munster in Thomond Park, Zane Kirchner’s arrival in Dublin yesterday was a welcome boost. The 29-year-old fullback won his 28th cap for the Springboks in Saturday’s epic 38-27 defeat to New Zealand in Johannesburg.

Kirchner will probably not start this weekend as Leinster are well stocked in the back field now Luke Fitzgerald has returned from his knee injury.

"We'll have to see what his body is like off the back of four tough Test matches . . . he's played on the wing, he's played 13. He's a versatile player but we'll probably not put too much heat on him to change from a position he has played for a very long time."

In doubt
Meanwhile, Lote Tuqiri's future at Leinster could be in doubt following a second hamstring injury in as many weeks since arriving on a three-month contract. When asked whether there is a release clause if the player is injured for a prolonged period, O'Connor responded: "We haven't had those conversations. Again, we need to talk to the rugby union to work out what our and their plans are on that."

Added to Brian O’Driscoll’s calf tear it leaves uncertainty at outside centre, while Leo Cullen (Achilles), Jordi Murphy (ankle), Shane Jennings (hand) and Andrew Goodman’s unavailability coupled with Johnny Sexton’s departure to Paris leaves the Leinster team looking significantly different from last season?

"No, I don't think so," said Seán O'Brien. "That team that played last weekend were nearly all there last year, bar Mike McCarthy and Lote Tuqiri. Most of us have played together as a team. But when Brian O'Driscoll, Leo Cullen and these lads are missing we're just going to have to get on with that."

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent