Leo Cullen has given Leinster and Ireland supporters a huge boost by indicating James Ryan could be back from injury much sooner than first expected.
A Leinster squad update Monday said the second-row powerhouse had suffered a shoulder injury in training that had required a medical procedure and added Ryan would be out of action for 10-12 weeks.
That would have placed the forward in danger of missing not just Leinster’s bid for a Guinness PRO14 and Heineken Champions Cup double when the 2019-20 season resumes later this month but also made Ryan a doubt for Ireland’s rearranged 2020 Six Nations home game with Italy, confirmed yesterday for Saturday, October 24.
Speaking at an online media conference from Aviva Stadium for the autism charity AsIAm, where he helped launch a scheme to give away 1,000 back-to-school packs to autistic children throughout Ireland, Cullen revealed that Ryan was already at least five weeks into a rehabilitation programme he was “flying” through.
That could mean the 24-year-old is back in Leinster blue in time for the home Champions Cup quarter-final against Saracens on September 19 and with an opportunity to gather some momentum into the extended Test window starting with that Italy game.
The only game the Leinster head coach said Ryan was a doubt for was the opening derby against Munster at Aviva Stadium on August 22.
“I don’t think he will be back here for the first game at least anyway,” Cullen said yesterday.
“We were back for a block, and he got injured in that first block and we took a break. He had a procedure straight away, but he is well on his way, so I’m not sure exactly is he maybe five weeks...maybe five or six weeks in, I’d have to check that exactly...I think five.
“He is making really good progress, he is flying it. He’s running and lifting in the gym, so making good progress. The lads are all in good form.”
Monday’s injury update also said Ireland back-rower Dan Leavy was making a gradual reintegration to rugby training after suffering a horror knee injury at the Aviva in March 2019 and Cullen emphasised the word gradual about Leavy’s return to action.
“Dan, I can still picture his injury down here from where we are today looking out on the pitch at the moment.
“A pretty horrific injury and I remember him lying on the bed downstairs when we came in.
“It’s part and parcel of the game but Dan’s worked incredibly hard to get back with a huge amount of work from our backroom team to get him in that shape and we’re dying to see him back playing at this stage but again, it’s so important to emphasise that it’s baby steps so we’re not setting him up to fail when he does come back. So we’ll be patient.
“Dan’s worked incredibly hard and to get back to this point where he is, training back with the lads on the field and we’ll see how he goes in the next couple of weeks as we start to ramp that up.”
Six Nations organisers yesterday confirmed the fixture list for the completion of the 2020 championship but announced that the outstanding Under-20 fixtures would not be played due to scheduling constraints, meaning there will be no winner.
That has denied Noel McNamara’s unbeaten squad the chance to close out on back-to-back Grand Slams for Ireland.
As expected, Andy Farrell’s senior squad will resume their campaign at home to Italy on Saturday, October 24 at Aviva Stadium before a final-round clash with France in Paris on October 31 with Ireland’s women playing their corresponding fixtures on the same weekends.
Six Nations Rugby Ltd also confirmed it was progressing with “contingency plans for an alternative tournament format in place of the Autumn Internationals for 2020, primarily driven by travel restrictions not allowing many international teams to play the scheduled matches”.
“This tournament will be a unique eight-team competition, involving the Six Nations unions and two other international teams. We are currently finalising match schedules, operational details including venues as well as commercial arrangements. Further announcements relating to this competition are expected to be made later this month.”