Mike Ross is “unlikely” to be fit in time for Ireland’s Six Nations opener against Wales next month, according to Leinster head coach Leo Cullen.
The tighthead prop, so crucial to his club and country’s causes since being repatriated from Harlequins in 2009, has not played since suffering a high-grade hamstring tear against Toulon at the Aviva Stadium in December.
Leinster made positive soundings about his rehabilitation at the start of the month, but Cullen painted an altogether bleaker picture yesterday ahead of today’s Champions Cup game — for them — against a Bath side still with an outside shot of making the last eight.
“Unlikely,” said Cullen. “I’m not sure, certainly for next week (against Wasps). Whatever about the week after (against Dragons), I’m not sure. We’ll just assess him every three or four days. You kind of get a new picture. Certainly he won’t be available next week.
“Whatever about the week after, which obviously leaves it tight going into the Six Nations for him … whether he makes it back for that Welsh weekend … is he available, has he done enough? They’re probably questions for someone else.”
With four defeats to their name in the competition, Leinster are playing for pride today, though Cullen has gambled with his side’s chances of avoiding a fifth European loss on the trot this season by plumping for a callow side, particularly so in the front five.
Six of the home team’s first XV — Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong, and Ross Molony — will be making their first European starts. Three of them haven’t even received the graduation scrolls from the Leinster Academy.
Few fans will complain.
It is essentially a free hit for some of the province’s next exciting, generation of talent and it will allow them to bank valuable, high-end game time before a Six Nations period when they will be tasked with maintaining the side’s impressive Guinness PRO12 pace.
Rob Kearney, incidentally, appears to have been rested this week while Jamie Heaslip sits it out as a result of the head knock he suffered against Ospreys last time out. He should be fine next week. Cian Healy and Fergus McFadden are serving suspensions.
It is the potential long-term absence of others which is of greater interest. With speculation rife that Marty Moore has all but signed on the dotted line for Wasps next year, the issue of players taking the emigrant boat to foreign shores is again a live one.
Ian Madigan, who starts at No.10 today, has already confirmed his intention to pitch up in Bordeaux while there was relief in Munster this week when rumours of James Cronin’s rumoured departure to London Irish were undone by confirmation that the prop had recommitted to the local cause.
If Cullen is concerned, he does a good job of hiding it and, though he refused to discuss Moore’s current situation specifically, he did point out that there were a glut of Irish players hanging around the English Premiership No.10 years ago, too.
Harlequins had five Paddies at one point, Leicester Tigers a pair, Cullen among them.
“There is a cyclical nature to it, in these World Cup cycles,” said Cullen.
“We have had to have quite a big squad this year because by the end of the World Cup, we had 19 players (on Ireland duty) and that isn’t including the guys who were out injured.
“That is quite a big bulk of your squad gone so we had to keep a lot of guys on. So, we will probably have less players next year just for that reason alone. That’s what I mean about the cycle part of it.”
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