The former Ireland scrum-half is out for six to eight weeks after ‘coming off second-best’ in a breakdown battle during a nip-tuck first half against defending champions Racing 92.
Initial fears it was a cruciate tear have been allayed.
O’Leary was omitted from Munster’s European squad this season but featured in Montpellier’s 22-16 Champions Cup win over Leinster. But this setback looks certain to rule him out of back-to-back Champions Cup fixtures against Castres as well as four Top 14 fixtures. O’Leary is on a four-month deal in the south of France.
He said: “I was poaching a ball and got cleared out. Someone landed with their entire bodyweight on my knee.
“I came off the bench against Leinster in the Champions Cup, but that was my first game in the Top 14 and my first start, and I was obviously pretty frustrated to go off after half an hour.”
Reports in France suggest the former Ireland scrum-half, who joined Montpellier in October on a four-month medical joker contract, may be out of action until January, but O’Leary hopes he can beat medical opinion:
“I think I’ll be out for about six weeks. It’s pretty frustrating and disappointing — what with coming to a new club, but I guess it could have been worse. I’m going to crack on with the rehab and hope to get back playing again around Christmas.”
Having hobbled off Racing’s Stade Yves du Manoir pitch with knee ligament damage, the 33-year-old could only watch from the bench as the defending Top 14 champions scored two late tries to win 21-9. Worse for the visiting team, replacement lock Robins Tchalé-Watchou and young centre Vincent Martin also picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for several weeks.
The trio injured in Paris join Paillaugue, Bismarck du Plessis, Paul Willemse, Alexandre Dumoulin and Benjamin Fall on the physio’s couch.
Despite the unlucky start to his Top 14 career, O’Leary is open to the idea of staying on in France after his short-term deal at Montpellier ends: “This six-week injury is obviously not ideal, but I’m pretty relaxed about what happens after the medical joker.
“If there’s an opportunity to stay here or play elsewhere in France, I’ll look at it to see if it’s the right option. If another team is interested, I’ll think about it, but it’s got to be the right team and the right environment. But I will wait and see what my options are. At this stage of my career, I’m not stressed about contracts.”
He’s also relaxed about his injury: “I guess I’ve had my fair share [of injuries] over my career — but this is the first major injury I’ve had for a couple of years. Hopefully, I can just get this behind me in five or six weeks.”
The enforced lay-off means there is time to find a more permanent place to stay. Right now, the player, his wife and son are staying in the hotel near Montpellier’s Altrad Stadium that O’Leary has called home since his arrival on October 19.
He said: “I’ve got a few apartment viewings lined up for this week. I haven’t found anything suitable yet, but I’m pretty confident I’ll be in an apartment by the end of the week.
“My wife and my son have been here for the last 10 days. It’s good to have them over — it’s a new experience for all of us. It’s exciting — trying to learn a bit of French and experience a new culture. They’re over here and enjoying it.”
And there has been little difficulty adapting to the Montpellier environment: “I didn’t know anyone on the team before I arrived but all rugby clubs are pretty similar — once you get here, everyone’s really welcoming, so it wasn’t a problem.
“The lads have been really welcoming. It’s been great to experience the Top 14 and a new culture. It’s been an adjustment, but one I’m really positive about and happy to experience. Hopefully, I can get back on the pitch sooner rather than later and contribute there as well.”