Cian Healy may have played his last game of rugby this season.
The Leinster and Ireland prop has endured another tormenting, injury-stricken campaign, starting with his struggle to return from a neck operation in time for Ireland’s World Cup bid last September, and full fitness looks as far removed right now as ever.
Recurring niggles in his neck and knee — the latter was the cause of a minor operation before the Six Nations — are at the root of his current ills. He is certain to sit out this Saturday’s Guinness PRO12 game against Treviso and he is a doubt for the play-offs.
Forwards coach John Fogarty dismissed any long-term career fears and said that the question over whether Healy should be excused duty from Ireland’s tour to South Africa in June in order to recuperate fully is a matter for Joe Schmidt and the Ireland medical team.
However, there was an acknowledgement that the openside, who has also had to recover from a bad ankle ligament injury and a hamstring torn off the bone, as well as several other minor injuries since 2013, now needs time to register a clean bill of health.
“We don’t want to just keep trucking him,” Fogarty explained. “We want to make sure that those are resolved so that he can be back to the way he can play and I think Cian is on board with that. That’s what’s happening at the moment.”
Leinster are also nursing Sean O’Brien back to full health. The prognosis on the flanker, whose last club game was in January, had been upbeat last week, with backs coach Girvan Dempsey assuring fans that he would definitely be back before the season’s end.
Fogarty was far more circumspect.
“We were hoping as much as anyone that he could be closer. That didn’t happen last week and it’s sort of the same this week. It’s one of those things where there is no definitive ‘he will be back for this game’ unfortunately, which can be frustrating for everyone involved.”
If Healy and O’Brien’s injury woes have been bad, then Luke Fitzgerald’s have been positively awful. The luckless back damaged medial ligaments in his knee after appearing as a replacement in Leinster’s 30-6 defeat to Ulster on Saturday and sat out training yesterday.
It is a similar injury to that which scuppered his Six Nations hopes.
The only other significant casualty to emerge from the Kingspan Stadium loss — apart from the squad’s collective confidence levels — was flanker Josh van der Flier, who was in a moon boot yesterday after picking up an ankle injury in Belfast.
It’s a notable list of concerns for head coach Leo Cullen as he seeks to end his rookie year in the role with a PRO12 title, but Jonathan Sexton has warned that everyone in the organisation needs to take a long, hard look at themselves, regardless of how and when the season ends.
Sexton remarked last week that Leinster have some way to go to return to a peak which saw them acknowledged as the undisputed top dogs in Europe. Events in Belfast lent considerable weight to that theory.
“It’s obviously got to be everyone, hasn’t it? It’s got to be everyone in the environment, from the CEO right down to whoever’s at the bottom,” Sexton said, when asked if the onus was on the coaches or the players to make that jump happen.
Sexton moved to Racing 92 in Paris three seasons ago and found a club that was very much a work in process. It was a culture shock after his success at Leinster, but he didn’t demur when it was put to him that he may be suffering a sense of déjà vu on his return.
Twice yesterday he spoke about how Leinster’s performances have been good in the league this season, before correcting himself and stressing that it has been the results rather than displays that have been acceptable.
Sexton had identified worrying signs in the previous defeats of Edinburgh and Munster, but players and coaches are always more open to learning lessons on the back of a defeat and his hope is that Saturday’s was stark enough and timely enough to have an impact this season.
“It’s not like we’re fighting to get into the Champions Cup. We are where we are. Our league results have been good. But there’s no one hiding the fact that we have to get a hell of a lot better to get back to where Leinster should be, which is at the top of Europe.”
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