Tuesday 23 January 2018

Injury could disrupt Cullen plans

Kearney and Fitzgerald doubtful to face Wasps

Leinster full-back Rob Kearney and wing Luke Fitzgerald are both doubts for the Champions Cup match against Wasps next Sunday
Leinster full-back Rob Kearney and wing Luke Fitzgerald are both doubts for the Champions Cup match against Wasps next Sunday

When Leo Cullen mentioned Rob Kearney's "history" with his "lower back issues" and how he is someone "we need to manage," it triggered the memory of an explosive article back in October 2012.

Back then, the decorated Ireland full-back spoke out for the first time about how he had been dealing with the management of a disc problem for the remarkable length of seven years.

"I first got it on St Stephen's Day 2005 against Ulster in the Celtic League at Ravenhill," he said back then.

"It was actually Brian's (O'Driscoll) first game back after his shoulder operation from the Lions tour to New Zealand that summer.

"I first aggravated it lifting weights in the gym a few weeks before that Ulster game and then took a knock on it in that game.

"It has been bothering me since then. But it got really bad last year.

"It put me in doubt for the week of the (2012) Heineken Cup final last season," he said.

Eventually, Kearney went under the knife in October 2012 and followed a 12-week return to play programme.

There was the presence of a hamstring tweak on the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia in 2013, a gluteal injury at the World Cup just gone and now a likely strain to his hamstring.


Could the dreaded disc problem be back? There is a pattern that at least leads to caution.

"Any injury is a concern," said coach Cullen. "We'll get it assessed and we'll put a plan in place around his history and the actual extent of the injury.

"It is a little early for me to comment because I don't know how bad, or not bad, it is."

Of course, this could be just an unrelated hamstring problem. Worryingly, it could be more than that for a real Leinster leader.

Either way, the re-signing of Isa Nacewa, the club captain, is looking like better business with every passing week as Kearney is unlikely to be risked against Wasps in the first round of the Champions Cup next Sunday.

Luke Fitzgerald could face the same easy-as-he-goes scenario from a blow received against Benetton Treviso the week before last.

Cullen has taken the view not to push too soon with regard to injury and it wasn't that long ago Fitzgerald was seriously contemplating retirement due to neck/shoulder and groin injuries.

"Lukey had a bang on his neck/shoulder," said Cullen.

"He saw the specialist he had surgery with in the past and he's not too bad.

"We're reasonably confident he will be back in the mix pretty soon."

These are two individual concerns for a coach in need of the good start against Wasps that he didn't get against The Scarlets on Friday night.

Leinster can't afford to cough up points against a rebooted Wasps, strengthened by the summer signings of the likes of scrum-half Dan Robson, New Zealand wing Frank Halai and prop James Johnston.

"We certainly can't," said Cullen.

"We had a soft start against Wasps last year in The RDS. We were 20 points-to-eight down and made life very, very difficult for ourselves.

"It's a completely different year, completely different group of players. I won't be looking back that much at Wasps.

"We did have a slow start. But, we did have a makeshift team that day, if memory serves me correctly. We had a lot of injuries this time last year. We are probably in slightly better health."

The same sluggish opening allowed The Scarlets to make their presence felt at The RDS.

"I thought we just got caught sitting on our heels in defence," he said.

"We allowed them to run into us, got a little bit high as well. They were running into our chests. We were soaking those couple of metres every time and Hadleigh Parkes got in for a soft try."

Wasps can call on the 'insider knowledge' of the suspended Jimmy Gopperth, the unlikely-to-be-selected Brendan Macken and even Jimmy Downey, the Munster and Leinster old boy.

"It is definitely something we need to look at. Wasps have some big, strong ball carriers. We'll have to be a lot better in that area."

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