IF EVER CONFIRMATION was needed that European rugby is not the place we all once knew, it was written in large bold print at the RDS today.
The three-time champions host the Ospreys on Friday knowing that a convincing defeat would send them tumbling out of the Heineken Cup.
As much as Ospreys love to upset the fans in the RDS, it’s not looking likely this time around; but rather than be forced to dwell on the opposition, those representing Leinster could not escape the shadow of Jamie Heaslip and Sean O’Brien.
With the latter reportedly on his way to Toulon for advanced contract talks and Heaslip not far behind, Sean Cronin admitted that it’s not just the media and the rugby-viewing public who have their chins wagging.
“It’s turned into a bit of a joke at the moment,” says the hooker, “last year when it was all up in the air with Jonny [Sexton] there wasn’t many lads talking about it. But there’s been lots of slagging going on with Seanie: like, ‘what’s the agricultural stuff like down in Toulon?’ Or, ‘Jamie…’ a bit of craic with him as well.
“I think it’s the best way to approach it, have everything out in the open, talk about it and have a bit of craic. Because otherwise it’s just going to be a monkey in the room… or an elephant in the room.”
While he may mix up his metaphors or the rank and file of the animal kingdom now and then, Cronin is thinking perfectly straight when he says that the situation is merely part and parcel of the modern professional game and jokingly answered a query on whether he could convince one of the back rows to stay by saying:
“He [Jamie] sits next to me in the dressing room, so today I told him he can’t go, he can’t leave me.”
The distraction is not so much of a laughing matter for Matt O’Connor, and the gruff Australian winced as his two minutes free of the subject came to an end.
“We haven’t had any more discussions this week. What I’ve said is that we’re confident we can provide the environment that guys want to be a part of. They’ve got to make a decision. We’re not in control of all those parameters, but we should have a decision pretty soon.”
He added: “There’s no time frame from us apart from as soon as possible. It’s dragged on a long time from everyone’s perspective and the soon it’s sorted out so everyone’s got better clarity, the better.”
O’Connor insisted that the issue was not a cause of frustration – not yet – and that he would be in no rush to go on a recruitment drive to fill the void if two Lions need to be replaced in the back row.
“We’re pretty comfortable with what is behind those guys and we’ll wait until we’ve got clarity on that before we worry about replacing blokes that haven’t given us an indication that they don’t want to be here.”
Until then, Leinster must struggle on with the elephant on their back.