Leinster have opted against registering either Cian Healy or Sean O’Brien for Europe ahead of Saturday’s round six visit to Coventry, where they meet Wasps to decide who finishes top of Pool 2 in the Champions Cup.
Both players are believed to be close to a return after long-term injuries and have trained extensively with the squad in recent weeks, but coach Matt O’Connor decided against using up the province’s one remaining registration slot ahead of yesterday’s noon deadline.
The pair have instead been pencilled in for a return on February 15th against the Dragons, although it may be that Joe Schmidt has a look at one or either before the Six Nations when the Ireland Wolfhounds face the England Saxons in Cork.
Rhys Ruddock is another whose mid-February return date has Ireland ramifications and while Zane Kirchner is due back that same day, Leinster fans will be more interested to hear that Ben Te’o is good to go this week after missing the Castres win with a rib injury.
Rob Kearney, Tadhg Furlong and Michael Bent are all fit.
That trio sat out training on Monday, for undisclosed reasons, but returned to the fold at UCD yesterday.
Bent will likely never replicate the volume of headlines O’Brien, Healy or Kearney make — nor the splash he made when he first arrived in Ireland — but the prop’s rebirth at Leinster is still a story worthy of a few inches.
Over two years have passed since he was parachuted into Carton House, snapped (ill-advisedly) holding a hurley and pressed into service for the November internationals at a time when Ireland’s stock of tightheads was perilously low.
He swam, very briefly, but sunk soon enough.
“It was pretty tough, initially. I blocked a lot of it out, for the most part. I knew that I’d come over here and (needed to) just focus on what I was doing and not worry too much about everything else that was going on around me.”
It can’t have been easy at the time. New team, new country thousands of kilometres from home and with Joe Public and the media convinced he was just as far out of his depth after making the switch from Taranaki and New Zealand’s ITM Cup.
Did it ever feel like one big mistake?
“No, not at all. I’ve really enjoyed my time here so far and I’d like to think I’ll continue to play here for a few years to come. So I feel quite at home here, I’ve met up with distant relatives and have a good network here. I’m quite happy.”
The turnaround began last season despite knee and neck injury setbacks.
His first European start was banked against Wasps last October. He backed that up a week later, in Castres, and he stepped into the breach again last weekend to start at loosehead in the absence of the injured Cian Healy and the suspended Jack McGrath.
He still expresses a preference for tighthead, when pushed, but the ability to pack down on both sides of the front row has multiplied his value and he clocked in with a good performance in the set-piece and in the loose last week.
His name hasn’t been mentioned in too many debates surrounding Schmidt’s World Cup squad but Bent admits he would love to add to the two caps he earned in 2012.
“Obviously the Leinster stuff comes first, I’ve got to play well and just to be playing for Leinster, even to be in contention for that sort of thing… but, yeah, it’s certainly something in my sights that I would like to target.”
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