Jamie Heaslip returned to training yesterday, pulling on the boots for the first time since the back injury that ended his season in March.
That injury, sustained in the warm-up for the England clash at Aviva Stadium, ruled him out of Leinster’s Champions Cup and Guinness Pro12 semi-finals, and cost him his place on a possible third Lions tour.
He’s since undergone surgery — one of the only serious injuries in his extraordinary professional career — and despite a ‘small setback’ is expected to return around the time of Leinster’s Aviva clash with Munster in October.
Leinster boss Leo Cullen had hoped to include the flanker in the province’s pre-season but could not do so, and it is unlikely he will play before the South Africa trip in round three and four with only 28 players allowed to be taken on tour for the back to back games.
He will return to a Leinster and Ireland squad packed with backrow options, but Cullen doesn’t think that will affect the No. 8 one bit.
“Jamie is returning to play today,” Cullen said at yesterday’s press briefing.
“The injury has been a bit slower than he would have liked, but, he is a great competitor. He always has been.
“I am sure he will rise to whatever challenge is there. He is a great competitor, a fantastic professional in the way he goes about his business. I think he is going to thrive for the challenges that come to him.
“He was unlucky when you think about it. He pulled out of the England game, someone else, Peter O’Mahony, comes in from to start.
“He was man-of-the-match and then goes on to captain the Lions a few months later.
“The message is there: You have to take your opportunity when it comes along. Jamie, he will be gunning and ready to go.”
Leinster will kick off their Pro14 season on Saturday against Dragons at Rodney Parade, with six other regular Ireland internationals on the injury list. Robbie Henshaw, Johnny Sexton, Tadhg Furlong, and Sean O’Brien are nursing various ailments while Garry Ringrose is likely to be missing for up to two months.
Winger Dave Kearney is a doubt for the first round of fixtures after complaining of a tight groin against Bath last Friday.
That leaves Leinster particularly short in midfield and Cullen admits he’ll need to shake things up.
“We have to be a little bit creative, for sure,” he said.
“Garry and Robbie have been well-documented. Tom Daly did his cruciate over in Perpignan which was such an innocuous incident. He finished the game and the following week I asked him how he was, he said it was settling down then, half an hour later, the physio came in and said: ‘He’s done his cruciate.’”
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