LEINSTER coach Joe Schmidt is scouring the world for a replacement prop following a serious injury to Stan Wright.
The Cook Islander has been ruled out for six months after rupturing an Achilles tendon in Leinster’s defeat to London Wasps last week; a further injury to squad member Mike Ross has left the Dublin based side without a specialist tight head prop for their visit to Leicester this weekend.
“We’re looking for someone immediately and we’re talking to someone who’s Irish eligible; he’s playing in Ireland presently,” confirmed Schmidt. “That’s a first stop-gap – we’d like it to be more than a stop-gap. Then we’re looking further afield. Stan is obviously a foreign player so we are confident we can replace him with like on a permanent basis because his injury requires that type of replacement.”
It hasn’t been the smoothest transition from French to Irish rugby for Schmidt. Apart from having to prepare the squad without the full participation of the top Irish internationals, skipper Leo Cullen remains unavailable as he recovers from surgery on his shoulder.
Kevin McLaughlin is still out but the one injury bonus is that Nathan Hines could start in the friendly at Welford Road. “Nathan is hoping to return and we will know for sure tomorrow.”
Schmidt finds himself in the unusual situation of having to accept that national coach Declan Kidney has first call on his players.
“I came across with my eyes at least half open, but I’ve got to say there have been a few surprises. It is a little more stringent than I expected, but at the same time it just makes it that bit more of a challenge.
“It is a lot more difficult than at Clermont. You could go a lot more global in your recruitment, you can refer to one man – your president – and say, ‘I want to get that guy there’.
“However, I think to a degree the French (national team) suffer as a result of it because they don’t have the same control over their players. They got through the Six Nations really well, but the end of season tour was not great for them. I think their preparations for the World Cup are a lot more difficult than Ireland’s are. For the benefit of Irish rugby you have four professional teams, you got a little bit more control over the resources that you have got available.”
Schmidt was speaking at the Magners League launch in Cardiff yesterday.
In a shake-up for this season, Six Nations and British and Irish Lions head John Feehan has taken on additional responsibilities to become Chief Executive of the Magners League. There will also be a new management structure and a new chairman, former Scotland and British and Irish Lions international Andy Irvine.
A further boost in Europe will be the participation of Italian clubs Aironi and Benetton Treviso and the deal made with Italian broadcaster Dahlia TV who will show several live games this season.
Aironi captain Josh Sole is looking forward to the exposure which, he believes, will be of huge benefit to Italian rugby.
“I’d say we should be able to compete up front and we will see what happens from there, but the number of games is bound to have a beneficial impact on all of our players; hopefully we can unearth some new talent along the way,” he said.
He won’t be in action in his club’s opener against Munster at Musgrave Park on Saturday week – he is recovering from a broken wrist – but hopes his side don’t get rolled over.
“It’s important for us to start the tournament well and make a statement. It couldn’t have been much harder than to have to go to play a side of Munster’s strength and reputation, but we have to accept that we will be faced with such challenges at every stage of the season.”
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