Stuart Hogg will not play any part in Saturday's Pro12 final at the RDS. The Scotland fullback has been excluded from Gregor Townsend's squad as he actively seeks to leave the Glasgow Warriors.
Ulster could be his next club if contractual complications can be resolved. The highly-regarded 21-year-old has another year to run on his Scottish Rugby Union deal so compensation is required.
Hogg would slot into Ulster's back three next season with Jared Payne's expected switch to outside centre (the province categorically dismissed rumours of Payne moving to Leinster as Brian O'Driscoll's replacement).
Hogg travelled to Belfast in April for talks with director of rugby David Humphreys and head coach Mark Anscombe. He has family links in the city but Saracens are also believed to be interested as are several French clubs.
"I don't know him too well, great player, seems like a good lad, but there is something going on there behind the scenes," said Rob Kearney of his fellow British and Irish Lions tourist.
“That’s a huge surprise,” said Kearney when it was suggested Hogg would not play on Saturday. “He is not just one of Glasgow’s best players, he is one of Scotland’s best players. There is a reason for it and I suppose you lads will find out sooner or later.”
Since the European game against Toulon in January, Hogg has only featured twice for Glasgow. Granted, he started all of Scotland's Six Nations ties but the thrashing of Zebre on May 10th, when he crossed for two tries, now looks like his last in the Warriors jersey.
Peter Murchie is expected to be Townsend's starting fullback on the weekend.
Leinster coach Matt O’Connor has two tough decisions to make ahead of Friday’s team announcement; the backrow make-up and number 23.
Match-day squad O'Connor stated yesterday that Mike McCarthy trained with the squad, following a calf strain, which means Quinn Roux will probably drop out of the match-day squad as club captain Leo Cullen is retained on the bench.
With Jamie Heaslip leading the side and Shane Jennings expected to start at openside, one of the backrowers capped for Ireland this season will be sitting in the stands.
Jordi Murphy was the odd man out for the 13-9 semi-final victory over Ulster on May 17th, despite nailing down a bench slot in Joe Schmidt's Ireland squad during the Six Nations and being named in the Pro12 team of the season. Rhys Ruddock continued his excellent campaign at number six against Ulster with Sean O'Brien on the bench.
Following shoulder surgery last January, O’Brien was not expected to return until pre-season but his recovery should see him feature on Saturday. However, he will not be risked on the Ireland tour of Argentina.
“It’s a good position to be in,” said O’Connor. “The challenge is making sure we get the balance of that right and we get the combination of that right in relation to blokes who will perform and get us a result on Saturday.”
It’s an indirect decision for O’Connor between Murphy and Ruddock. If he goes with Ruddock, O’Brien will provide cover but if he starts O’Brien on the blindside, Murphy’s versatility should get him onto the bench with Ruddock losing out.
With Luke Fitzgerald still not right and Dave Kearney undergoing surgery to repair his anterior cruciate knee ligament on Friday, Zane Kirchner and Fergus McFadden will be the wingers. That means Brendan Macken or Noel Reid, who were the centre partnership in the British and Irish cup final last Friday night when Leinster A beat Leeds Carnegie 44-17, will wear number 23.
Reid, a natural number 12, was withdrawn after 46 minutes while Macken, a 13 by trade, galloped 80 metres for an intercept try.
"Drico would never score that today," quipped O'Connor. "Although he scored one like that against Munster in '09 [Heineken Cup semi-final]."
Meanwhile, James Coughlan will join former Munster backs coach Simon Mannix in Pau next season having received an early release from his Munster contract. 'Difficult decision' Munster already signed 26-year-old Wexford native Robin Copeland from the Cardiff Blues with a view to being Coughlan's long-term successor at number eight.
“This was a difficult decision for me to make,” said Coughlan, who is 34 in December. “I was presented with an opportunity that I had to take for myself and my young family as we plan for our future.”