The chances of Sean O’Brien featuring in the run-in to Ireland’s Six Nations campaign are veering towards slim with confirmation that the Leinster flanker is unavailable for his club’s trip to Llanelli this weekend, writes Brendan O’Brien.
The Carlow man has started running again after his hip problem, and procedure, but he was listed as ‘unavailable for selection’ by Leinster yesterday. He “will look to step up his rehabilitation further this week,” the update read.
O’Brien has been upbeat about his hopes of playing in the championship’s latter stages in his occasional media outings since the New Year and Ireland coach Joe Schmidt said after Saturday’s defeat of Wales in Dublin that the player was “on the cusp” of a return.
Then again, Schmidt also talked up the prospect of O’Brien returning to the squad in time for that Welsh tie. Ireland next play Scotland on Saturday week and England seven days later and the fact is that the 31-year-old has not played since mid-December.
Leinster don’t play again for another three weeks after this weekend’s game against Scarlets so that would leave O’Brien looking to drop back into the white heat of a Grand Slam bid with no rugby under his belt in over two months.
And that is a best-case scenario. It does not look good.
More pleasing from both a Leinster and an Ireland viewpoint is the fact that Garry Ringrose came through his return to action, against Southern Kings last Friday at the RDS, with no issues after his layoff with an ankle injury.
“I was very pleased with Garry,” said Leinster attack coach Girvan Dempsey. “Anyone who comes off a long-term injury, it does take time for them to bed in. I thought Garry showed some real good traits at the weekend.
“I thought he looked sharp on his feet, carried well, his passing skills were excellent.
“He looked comfortable in defence. What we like in Garry is he marshals that defence in the wider channels and he reads the game so, so smartly.”
That is a particularly important facet to any 13’s game and all the more so right now as Ireland go about addressing the sort of narrow defence that has cost them six tries in the wins against Italy and Wales. “At 13, there is huge pressure on you because you are isolated and you’ve got to be able to connect with your wingers,” Dempsey explained.
“Obviously, your 10 and 12 are involved in attack off first phase and then your 13 is the guy who is isolated, organising the forwards coming around, organising the wingers on the edges. You are the link between those players in terms of the defensive width in your wider channels. There is a lot of onus on that player and Garry has been excellent for us. We’re delighted he got through that work at the weekend.”
Like Ringrose, Ireland hooker James Tracy came through the Kings game with no complaints after his own return from injury while Ross Byrne is back training with Leinster. The out-half took a knock to the hip in the game against the Scarlets two weekends ago.
Centre/wing Rory O’Loughlin underwent a Head Injury Assessment after coming off in that same game and is still being assessed this week after coming through the return-to-play protocols.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.