O'Driscoll may return next week

 

Rugby:Brian O’Driscoll could be back in action as soon as next week, according to Leinster coach Joe Schmidt. The Ireland captain last week suggested the end of January was a more realistic timeframe for his comeback after ankle ligament surgery, but his coach today said he may feature against Edinburgh in the PRO12 on January 4th.

Speaking to RTE television from the Leopardstown Festival, the New Zealander said he was hopeful the centre - as well as Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald - would be in a position to prove their fitness ahead of the crucial Heineken Cup pool match against Scarlets at the RDS a week later.

“We’d be pretty confident about Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald getting back for Edinburgh," he said. “And there’re 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.”

Leinster need 10 points from their final two games in Pool 5 (they meet Exeter Chiefs at Sandy Park Stadium on the 19th) if they are to have any hope of qualifying for the knockout stages.

O’Driscoll did not rule out an early return when asked of his progress lest week, but was clearly not counting on it.

"I'm due to come back and play towards the end of January. I'm hoping to be back before that, but I don't know," he said. "I could make it back for rounds five and six of the Heineken Cup, but I haven't been thinking about it. I'm not aiming at anything at the moment. I'm going day on day, session on session. The thing is, I've had surgery and it has to knit.

"Healing is ongoing and no matter how much work I do, I'm not in control of it. I just have to wait for it to take properly and for when I'm given the go-ahead that it is secure from the specialist."

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 finally make his long-awaited return after recovering from the cruciate ligament injury he suffered last May.

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 Schmidt will name their side's at luncthime today.

Connacht squad:Brett Wilkinson; Denis Buckley; Ronan Loughney; Nathan White; Rodney Ah You; Jason Harris Wright; Ethienne Reynecke; Michael Swift; Mick Kearney; Andrew Browne; Johnny O’Connor; Eoghan Grace; Eoin McKeon; George Naoupu; Kieran Marmion; Paul O’Donohoe; Dan Parks; Matthew Jarvis; Fetu’u Vainikolo; Matt Healy; Dave McSharry; Eoin Griffin; Danie Poolman; Kyle Tonetti; Tiernan O’Halloran; Robbie Henshaw

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