Munster expect Keith Earls to resume training this week as the province step up preparations for Sunday’s Champions Cup semi-final v Racing 92 in Bordeaux.
The winger injured his knee in Ireland’s Six Nations win over England and Munster say the player “continues to make strides with his recovery”.
There was also a positive update about the fitness of scrum-half Duncan Williams, who had been ruled out for the rest of the season with facial injuries suffered in training, but will now “meet with the specialist to review an earlier return timeline”.
Following last Friday night’s win against the Cheetahs, Jack O’Donoghue and Dan Goggin are being assessed for respective ankle and knee knocks, while James Hart is following return-to-play protocols this week.
Meanwhile, Leinster senior coach Stuart Lancaster admits that “the clock is ticking” on Sean O’Brien and Luke McGrath, as the pair attempt to regain full fitness for the Champions Cup clash with Scarlets this Saturday.
O’Brien managed just 40 minutes in his latest comeback from injury, against Benetton at the RDS on Saturday. Head coach Leo Cullen revealed afterwards that the player reported soreness in the shoulder which had sidelined him in the first place.
Lancaster stated that management are “not giving up hope” on the back row, but the vibes aren’t encouraging. The hope is that Jack Conan, due to resume training this week, will make enough progress from his own knee issues to offset O’Brien’s possible absence.
Rhys Ruddock, missing since suffering a hamstring injury in the quarter-final defeat of Saracens, is another to be assessed further this week, but it would be a surprise if he were to feature against the reigning PRO14 champions.
More intriguing still is the domino effect if McGrath doesn’t make it, which would leave Leinster with no option but to start Kiwi scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park and one or other of Scott Fardy or James Lowe due to EU laws concerning Antipodean citizens.
“It does have a knock-on effect,” Lancaster admitted with a wry smile.
Fardy is indispensable, given the hard edge he provides and his ability to play at lock or at blindside flanker. That would leave Lowe, Leinster’s most potent attacker and a true game breaker, sitting in the Aviva Stands.
A decision will be made on all of the above after training today.
The blow of losing Lowe, if it comes to that, would be softened by the likely return from shoulder injury of Robbie Henshaw who is training fully since last week. His presence will also allow Isa Nacewa return to the wing from centre.
This could be the chance Gibson-Park has been waiting for. He arrived at Leinster from the Hurricanes, where he had spent a season — after three campaigns with the Blues — as back-up to All Black TJ Perenara and it has been the same story for him here with McGrath as first-choice. So, while Gibson-Park is 26, he has played just 34 minutes of knock-out Super Rugby and 15 of knockout European rugby thus far.
“He’s got the ability to play at this level and this will be his first real opportunity to demonstrate that he can do that,” said Lancaster. “I’m pleased personally that he actually did play [against Benetton] at the weekend and he had the extended game time.
“I’d be more concerned if he was coming in having only benched and come on for 10 minutes. When he was in Super Rugby, he didn’t really get a lot of game time and he’s had a significant amount of game time here over the last 18 months and now is his time.”
Maybe, but can the same be said for Nick McCarthy?
The 23-year old nine has just 29 minutes of European rugby to his name and he didn’t overly impress when replacing McGrath with 15 minutes left to play against Saracens in the last eight. Is it his time, too?
“Yeah, again, same thing,” said Lancaster. “It has to be.”
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