Leinster welcome back O’Driscoll and Heaslip

ON the injury front, no news is normally good news.

That was not the case in Dublin yesterday where there was plenty to report. Most of it was good too.

There wasn’t a hint of emotion from Joe Schmidt when he read out a starting 15 for today’s clash with Clermont Auvergne that included Brian O’Driscoll and Jamie Heaslip but the Leinster coach must have been doing somersaults inside.

His straight face may have been occasioned by the continued uncertainty over the availability of the latter who, despite being named at number eight, is still not a certainty as a result of the ankle injury which has hampered his preparations this week.

Should the man from Naas fail to get the go-ahead, his place will be taken by Dominic Ryan who impressed when replacing Heaslip in France last Sunday while Rhys Ruddock would be bumped up to the match-day squad as a reserve.

“A decision will be made on Jamie in the warm-up,” said Schmidt. “He is being given at least another 30 hours to see if we can get the swelling down and get enough movement in the ankle that he can play. I am quietly confident that he will make it.

“For good reason we do not want to put Jamie at risk. We got him through to half-time last week but he was struggling and we do not want him going on to the field struggling. We can put our faith in the young guys, Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock.”

So far this week Heaslip has been unable to train twice – yesterday included – and took a partial part in just one run out. O’Driscoll has been similarly limited in that he has been kept out of contact but there are no such worries about his readiness.

Less than three weeks have passed since he suffered his jaw injury against Argentina but the Leinster medical staff have declared him fully fit and he slots in for the unfortunate Eoin O’Malley who cracked a rib in an impressive European debut six days ago.

“Already, vocally, Brian brings a bit of confidence,” said Schmidt who revealed that the fracture had fully healed for a player who he said would add a welcome touch of “mystery” to Leinster’s back line play.

The home team have made two other alterations from the first meeting with Eoin Reddan starting in place of Isaac Boss at scrum-half and Cian Healy replacing Heinke van der Merwe as loosehead prop.

Clermont have aped that approach with a trio of their own tweaks. Georgian prop Davit Zirakashvili comes in for the injured Mario Scelzo, Julien Pierre replaces Loic Jacquet in the second row and Gavin Williams assumes Gonzalo Canale’s number 12 jersey.

Like Heaslip, doubts remain over Alexandre Lapandry who will be replaced by Alexandre Audebert in the back row if he fails a late fitness test but, whatever the outcome, Schmidt seems to know what to expect.

“They haven’t made too many (changes) – but Julien Pierre coming in for Loic Jacquet is no surprise. Loic is a fantastic athlete but Julien probably adds a bit more steel. He is more of a soldier and I have no doubt that they are going to battle us in the trenches.”

Brian O’Driscoll and Shane Jennings at a training session in UCD. The Irish captain has been named in Leinster’s team to play Clermont Auvergne today. Picture: Inpho

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