Munster may be fretting over the well-being of their first-choice locks this week but both of Leinster’s veteran second rows reported in yesterday fit and ready to go for Saturday’s trip to Thomond Park after their weekend outing against the Ospreys.
It was a big night for both.
For Leo Cullen, it was his first run since late January and an operation on a troublesome Achilles heel. For Brad Thorn it was a debut in blue for Joe Schmidt’s side after being plucked from virtual semi-retirement in Japan.
“We were both pretty nervous,” admitted Cullen. “I was saying how nervous I was before the game and he was the same. For the part he was on, the team went pretty well and in the last 20 minutes the team lost a bit of shape, a bit of cohesiveness as well. We went out of our game and were disappointed with conceding a try late on. It was great to play with a guy of his calibre and experience. It was a pity we didn’t get a result.”
With Ospreys catching Leinster right on the line at the RDS and Munster performing a similar trick against Connacht at the Sportsgrounds a day later, the gap between the leading Irish provinces at the top of the Pro 12 table is now just eight points.
Both will make the play-offs barring disaster and, while the rivalry is never less than keen, Schmidt and Tony McGahan will have one eye on the following week’s European quarter-finals when the sides face off this weekend.
With the Irish international contingents back in harness, the coaches will have to husband their resources cleverly, although McGahan’s options may yet be limited if Paul O’Connell and/or Donnacha Ryan don’t make it.
Cullen and Thorn most definitely will.
So, too, will Brian O’Driscoll who came through his own reintroduction to rugby against the Ospreys with no ill-effects after shoulder surgery while Mike Ross, who sat out that tie because of the injury suffered against England in Twickenham, should return.
Ross’s availability would be timely given not just the opposition and venue but the fact that there are concerns over two of Leinster’s other tight-heads: Jamie Hagan is a major doubt with damaged rib cartilage while Nathan White (bruised cheek) is more likely to travel.
Both picked up their injuries last Friday while Dave Kearney, who had to have 16 stitches for a cut above his eye during the game against the Welsh region, has also been passed fit.
“It was great with Brian and Leo coming back,” said team manager Guy Easterby. “That was fantastic and they got through a decent bit of work. Brad as well, I know he played an ‘A’ game, but he got his first run-out and sort of got to know the systems a little bit.
“So, apart from the result, it was great to get that side of things and get some players back like Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley who have been involved throughout the Six Nations even though they haven’t as much game time.”
Meanwhile, there is still no white smoke on Luke Fitzgerald’s ongoing contract discussions with the IRFU although Easterby reiterated that all parties were keen for the player to remain at Leinster.
“Luke has certainly said he wants to stay and the IRFU want him to stay so it’s just a matter of going through those negotiations. Sometimes they are easy and sometimes they take a little bit longer. This is just one of those that is taking its time.”
The European champions are also confident of signing a new second row before the end of the current campaign after Steven Sykes’ recent return to South Africa which necessitated the short-term signing of Thorn.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved