Ankle injury rules Rob Kearney out of Ulster Pro 12 semi-final

Leinster boss Leo Cullen and Les Kiss name otherwise unchanged sides for RDS clash

Rob Kearney has been ruled out of Leinster’s Pro 12 semi-final clash with Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

Rob Kearney has been ruled out of Leinster’s Pro 12 semi-final clash with Ulster. Photograph: Inpho

 
Leo Cullen has made one enforced change to Leinster’s starting line-up for Friday night’s Guinness Pro12 semi-final against Ulster in front of a 19,100 capacity RDS. Rob Kearney has been ruled out with the ankle injury he sustained two weeks ago in the win over Treviso, and so Luke Fitzgerald is restored with Dave Kearney shifting wing and Isa Nacewa moving to full-back.
 
The Leinster coach was optimistic that should Leinster reach next week’s final, Kearney will be fit for selection. “He is making really good progress and it was a really tight call with him. If we progress, we hope he will be available for our next game, whenever that next game might be,” said Cullen with a grin. “He is back jogging today, and was re-introduced to running.”
 
No less than Kearney, Fitzgerald has had another injury bedevilled season at a time when his form has looked good, particularly when taking to his role at outside centre in the period between the World Cup and the Six Nations.
 
“Luke Fitzgerald has looked sharp in training and it is great to have him back,” said Cullen. “He is a very exciting player when he is in form. He has had a few injury issues over the course of the season. But he is looking really good in training.”
 
There are a few changes on the bench with Jack Conan returning from injury for his first game since February, while Ian Madigan and Zane Kirchner are also back into the mix with Blackrock College man Madigan also playing his last game at the RDS. 
 
Cullen also confirmed that the season is over for both Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy, with O’Brien set to be sidelined for the summer too.
 
“He is going to see a specialist again in the UK tomorrow (Saturday). The likelihood is he is going to have surgery on the hamstring which will rule him out for a considerable period, exactly how long I am not sure. We will get that update after the procedure.”
 
Cullen expanded about O’Brien’s hamstring problem, which appears to be more serious than was originally thought and which Cullen yesterday compared to both Richardt Strauss and Healy, who tore their hamstrings off the bone.
 
“Initially he got injured for Ireland against France and there was a conservative approach in terms of dealing with it. he had that high hamstring tear so there were still some fibres intact. Guys have had similar injuries and been able to rehab back to play without any surgery. Other guys have had that complete rupture and gone for the surgical route straight away,” said Cullen, inferring that this had not been the case with O’Brien.
 
“It was slower to heal that we would have liked. He was getting close to the stage where he was pushing on his rehab and he just broke down at that stage. He sought out a few different opinions and he is going down the surgical route now which is frustrating for all.”
 
“Sean has had a few injuries but there are lots of players who go through that in their career. It is important for him now to try and focus on getting the surgery done first and then getting himself right. Then put a plan in place for getting back to the levels he is capable of producing. He has been such a key figure in all the good things with Leinster and Ireland. We will do all we can do to get him back to those levels again.”
 
“It is too hard to say when he might be back. We will see where he is post-op and see what the surgeon says, how it has gone and then put a plan in place. Both Richardt Strauss and Cian Healy have had similar surgeries and been successful. So there is optimism.
 
Asked how O’Brien had seemingly aggravated the injury, Cullen said: “During his graduated return to playing, he goes through rehabbing, slowly building through the different levels to get to the next stage, so that is what it means by ‘breaking down’. When he tries to go from jogging to running faster, it is not reacting in a possible fashion. So that was what was meant at the time.”
 
As for Healy, Cullen said: “Cian has had a couple of injuries, issues with his neck and his knee. It’s unlikely Cian will feature this season. He is being assessed all the time. It’s not meant to be vague but the reality is we are trying to just get a good plan for him. We are assessing him on a very regular basis, unlikely he will feature again this season.”
 
“He has a surgical procedure this time last year on his neck. It’s been slow to come back. There was a bit of nerve damage and he had a procedure done to try to repair those nerves. It has just taken time for him to come back. To complicate matters a little further, he has also been carrying an issue with his knee. But he is on a really good course of action for that. We are just managing those guys as best as we possibly can. It is not meant to be vague but somehow that is the way it is.
 
In the six years and 12 semi-final matches since the play-offs were introduced, no team has ever lost a home tie, with Leinster victorious in all five of their previous semi-finals at the RDS until failing to reach last season’s knock-out stages for the first time. 
 
Cullen acknowledged that the threat posed by both Ulster and fellow travellers Glasgow this weekend is particularly acute. “Definitely. We know how dangerous Ulster can be. We had a pretty tough outing up in Belfast three weeks ago on the end of a 30-6 scoreline. So we know it is going to be a tough challenge. They are a team in really good form at the moment playing confident rugby. It is going to be a very tough challenge.”
 

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Dave Kearney, Garry Ringrose, Ben Te’o, Luke Fitzgerald; Johnny Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Jack McGrath, Richard Strauss, Mike Ross; Devin Toner, Mick Kearney; Rhys Ruddock, Jordi Murphy, Jamie Heaslip. Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Jack Conan, Luke McGrath, Ian Madigan, Zane Kirchner.

Second Captains

ULSTER: J Payne; A Trimble, L Marshall, S McCloskey, C Gilroy; P Jackson, R Pienaar; C Black, R Best, R Lutton; P Browne, F van der Merwe; I Henderson, C Henry, S Reidy. Replacements: R Herring, K McCall, A Warwick, R Diack, R Wilson, P Marshall, S Olding, D Cave.

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