DESPITE WEEKLY OPTIMISTIC reports on the fitness of Rob Kearney since he was substituted early in Leinster’s defeat to Connacht last month, the star fullback will again be unavailable to Joe Schmidt as he takes his side to Llanelli this weekend.
Kearney sustained a back injury in the Sportsground, landing heavily after jumping to take a high ball.
Since that 34-6 defeat Schmidt has been eager to pencil the European player of the year in for the trip to Parc y Scarlets. Now though, it seems to worst-case six week lay-off is beginning to look closest to the mark.
However, speaking at Leinster’s UCD base today, Schmidt did have some positive news on the injury front, strongly hinting that he will amend his back-line to allow Gordon D’Arcy return to the fold.
“Gordon’s trained really well all week. We’re pretty confident about him, but less confident about Rob. Unfortunately he’s still battling away, ” said Schmidt.
“We’ll give him as much time as possible, but he wouldn’t be the same sort of certainty that Gordon D’Arcy is to be available. I’d have to say that he’s unlikely for this weekend.
“Again, we’re very conscious of doing what’s right for Rob and making sure that we don’t exacerbate any injury situation that he does have.”
The continued absence of Kearney allied with D’Arcy’s return will ensure a selection headache for Schmidt: To accommodate the veteran centre, Fergus McFadden is almost certain to line out on the wing The Kiwi must choose whether to retain Ian Madigan at fullback and push Andrew Conway to the bench, or reinstate Isa Nacewa to fullback and choose either Conway or Fionn Carr in the number 11 shirt.
One of the men who could soon have his hand up for that jersey is Dave Kearney. He, along with Rhys Ruddock , is set to feature for the first time this season when Leinster A face Pontrypridd in the British and Irish Cup on Saturday.
Also on the road to full fitness is centre Eoin O’Malley, who Schmidt says is “a couple of weeks away”. There was also a report steady progress from Luke Fitzgerald and Sean O’Brien who are both due back at the tail end of November.
“That’s positive news,” the head coach said summing up, “we just want to make sure that we’re still in the competition that these guys want to be part of.”