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'An injury can make liars out of us': Cullen coy on O'Brien's return date

The Leinster head coach said he had to make a ‘few tough calls’ this week despite the loss of O’Brien and Garry Ringrose for Glasgow.

O'Brien is now in a race against time to be fit for the Six Nations.
O'Brien is now in a race against time to be fit for the Six Nations.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

LEO CULLEN SAID it is too early to say if Sean O’Brien will be fit to play any part in Ireland’s forthcoming Six Nations campaign after the flanker had a hip operation on Wednesday.

Despite providing assurances that he would shake off the problem in time for the championship opener on 3 February, O’Brien was ruled out of Leinster’s Champions Cup clash with Glasgow tomorrow after travelling to see a specialist in the UK earlier in the week.

After rehabilitation work, and a period of three weeks rest, failed to resolve the issue, it was decided that the best course of action was for O’Brien to have what Leinster describe as a ‘small procedure.’

The latest injury setback has almost certainly ruled the 30-year-old out of Ireland’s opening fixtures against France and Italy and makes him a serious doubt for the rest of the championship.

O’Brien will also miss Leinster’s final two Champions Cup pool games, having last played in the round four win over Exeter Chiefs before Christmas.

“Sean has had a small procedure done so hopefully it won’t be too long,” Cullen said yesterday, a little over a week after the player himself had said he was targeting Sunday’s clash with Glasgow as his return date.

What changed?

“The hope was to have him back by now,” Cullen continued. “What changed was he went to see a specialist and they opted to readjust what the thought process was originally.

“An injury can make liars out of us. You can say something is going to take two weeks and it can take two months. You know the way it is. It is hard to be specific and say when you guys ask ‘How long is it going to be?’ I honestly don’t know.”

When pressed on a specific timeline, Cullen was again unable to be exact.

“It’s hard to put a timeline on it,” the head coach added. “Sean is realistic, he looks at the big picture. We’ll see how he comes through, he shouldn’t be a million miles away.”

While the loss of O’Brien is a blow for Leinster, particularly ahead of next week’s trip to Montpellier, Cullen is still at least in a position to name an all-international back row for the visit of Glasgow to the RDS tomorrow [KO 1pm, Sky Sports].

Leo Cullen Cullen speaking during yesterday's press conference. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

After his herculean-like performance against Connacht, Josh van der Flier returns to the side and is joined by Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan, while Tadhg Furlong has recovered from a head knock and an elbow injury to start in the front row.

The big, and interesting, calls come in the back line, however.

Cullen opted for form over experience when selecting Jordan Larmour for his first European start at fullback ahead of Rob Kearney, while James Lowe is in for his Champions Cup bow.

The Kiwi has made a major impression since arriving in November and having scored two tries in three Pro14 appearances, brings another level of x-factor to Leinster’s exciting and dangerous back three which also includes the rejuvenated Fergus McFadden.

On the decision to drop Kearney, Cullen said: “It’s across the board really, there’s a number of guys unlucky to miss out this week, really. It’s a good place the group are in, they’re working hard for each other, which is great, there’s a number of guys who have been unlucky with very close calls, but that’s what we want — a competitive group, all pushing each other on in the same direction.

“You know what the season is like, you have to be prepared for injuries, and key players missing. We’ve a few in other positions that are on the sidelines at the moment, so there were a few tough calls this week.”

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