Macken or O’Malley fight it out for O’Driscoll’s position
Leinster coach Joe Schmidt has some big shoes to fill
Brendan Macken, one of the contenders to replace the suspended Brian O’Driscoll.
Fergus McFadden’s willingness to have his hands on the ball ensured he took a bit of a battering during the Six Nations and tender ribs look like keeping him sidelined for another week, while Gordon D’Arcy trained yesterday and is available to play, as is scrumhalf Isaac Boss.
Jonny Sexton has come out of his medical boot, which is progress for the outhalf, but he still has some weeks to think about how he would like to leave Leinster for Paris before thinking of kicking a ball, five to six weeks from the injury on March 14th.
Macken and O’Malley will offer different options to Schmidt for the RDS meeting between the leaders and the third-placed team. It’s frightening to think that when Ulster beat Leinster 27-19 in Belfast the weekend before Christmas, they were 16 points ahead of them on the table. Ulster imperatives are likely twofold, halt what is edging towards an ignominious slide and find some shape for their Heineken Cup quarter-final next weekend.
“Brendan went into professional rugby quite young. Maybe, at the start of it, found it a little bit difficult,” said assistant coach Richie Murphy. “But, this year he has definitely stepped up.
“His speed off the mark and his turn of pace is second to none. Even in training sessions against our lads, they find him very hard to handle. He brings that to his game. He’s a good passer. He’s a relatively big guy, one of our biggest backs at 95 or 96kgs.”
It was O’Malley, who started with D’Arcy in Leinster’s win over Glasgow last Saturday and he played the entire game, which appears to put him to the front of the queue. Macken, though, did start in Leinster’s previous match against Dragons, with McFadden at inside centre, and before that against Scarlets it was O’Malley who teamed up at outside centre with Andrew Goodman.
“Eoin is probably one of the best passing backs that we have,” added Murphy. “He’s very good on his feet. He’s a lot smaller than the likes of Brendan, but very dynamic in that contact area with good feet as well. They are slightly different types of animal; wouldn’t have the pace of Brendan, but reads the game very well and is a clever footballer. We are looking at both of those guys.”
O’Malley also comes with some stripes. That he can provide that among so many hard-bitten internationals suggests a temperamental advantage as well as a decent pass. But even beyond this weekend and next, O’Driscoll’s plans for next season are still uncertain.
“We have a leadership group which the players have selected themselves,” said Murphy. “Seán O’Brien would be in there. Eoin O’Malley would be in there. There are people we feel add to Leinster in a leadership capacity. As coaches we try to drive messages through those players. Jonny would be in that. He will be gone. Isa will be gone. There are about six or seven guys in that group. Two will have to step up.”