Healy and O’Brien will regain form and fitness-Dempsey
Dempsey confident key players will be back on field, but not for a few weeks yet
Leinster coach Girvan Dempsey remains confident Cian Healy and Seán O’Brien will regain the performance and fitness levels that allowed them play such a central role in making the province a European powerhouse.
Healy, still only 28, has grappled with a catalogue of injuries that reduced him to understudying for Jack McGrath with both Leinster and Ireland.
“They’re both very competitive,” said Dempsey. “They’re excellent pros and they want to be playing at the highest level and we see the amount of work they do behind the scenes trying to get themselves back on the field.”
Dempsey highlighted the development of McGrath and Josh van der Flier in their absence but when noted that O’Brien’s power makes him a unique specimen in Irish rugby, he replied: “Yeah, he’s an outstanding player, you look at international scene and for us it’s tough when he’s not around.”
On return from his latest in a string of injuries in Paris last month, O’Brien lasted a mere 19 minutes before suffering a grade two hamstring tear.
“Seán, unfortunately, is a couple of weeks away,” said Dempsey ahead of Saturday’s trip to face Pro 12 leaders Connacht in Galway.“Definitely another two to three weeks.”
There also appears to be a change in player availability. Last year the since-sacked head coach Matt O’Connor had to make do without ever-present Irish players in the championship winning side when a fully stocked Glasgow could only be held 34-all at the RDS – a result which severely damaged Leinster’s Pro 12 play-off hopes and O’Connor’s future with the province.
The Ireland players who started against Scotland – Johnny Sexton, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross, Devin Toner and Jamie Heaslip – are being rested for most of this week but could be available for Saturday’s trip to the Sportsground. Victory in Galway would move Leinster top of the Pro 12 as they trail Pat Lam’s men by a single point with five games – three of which are interprovincials – remaining in the regular campaign.
Rob Kearney and Marty Moore remain doubtful but players launched off the Ireland bench of late, such as jousting hookers Richardt Strauss and Sean Cronin, Healy, Rhys Ruddock, Fergus McFadden, Ian Madigan and Eoin Reddan, are expected to play some role.
Regarding reports that Leinster have signed 24-year-old New Zealand scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park as a project player, Dempsey said: “It’s something we can’t divulge at this moment in time as nothing has been finalised in terms of a contract.”
Gibson-Park, who has played eight times for the New Zealand Maori, fits the criteria for what Leinster have been actively seeking now Reddan and Isaac Boss are nearing the end of their careers.
“We are always looking at other players that can add value to the group if we want to compete in Europe,” said Dempsey.