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Dublin: 5°C Sunday 17 January 2021

O'Brien set to be unleashed against Ulster in bid to bank minutes before South Africa

But both Josh van der Flier and Barry Daly have been ruled out of the inter-pro in Belfast.

O'Brien was on water duty on Saturday.
O'Brien was on water duty on Saturday.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

SEAN O’BRIEN IS expected to start for Leinster in Saturday’s Guinness Pro14 clash with Ulster at Kingspan Stadium as he looks to prove his match fitness ahead of Ireland’s November internationals.

The flanker’s season has been slow to get going after a delayed reintroduction was followed by another three weeks out with a calf injury he suffered in the victory over Edinburgh last month.

But O’Brien was part of Leinster’s extended squad for the Champions Cup trip to Glasgow at the weekend and although he was held back by Leo Cullen, is now set to be unleashed against Ulster on Saturday night.

The 30-year-old trained with the rest of the squad at UCD on Monday afternoon, but Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath and Tadhg Furlong were among those who sat out the session.

Josh van der Flier and Barry Daly were also absent after sustaining ankle injuries at Scotstoun and both have already been ruled out of this weekend’s trip to Belfast as they await further assessment.

While van der Flier is out of contention, there is still serious competition for places in the Leinster back row with O’Brien, Dan Leavy and Jordi Murphy all seeking game time after missing out on starts last weekend.

Leavy came off the bench for van der Flier in Glasgow and reported no ill effects of the ankle problem which had kept him out for six weeks, but will be desperate to work his way back into Joe Schmidt’s plans for November.

Sean O'Brien O'Brien during Leinster training at UCD earlier. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

With news of Niall Scannell’s unavailability for the Autumn Tests because of a thumb issue, the door has opened for James Tracy or Richardt Strauss to push their case for inclusion for the Fiji game with strong showings over the next two weekends.

After making his long-awaited injury comeback for Leinster ‘A’, Strauss also travelled to Scotland with the province and his return to the side could be fast-tracked by the poor form of Tracy.

The 26-year-old replaced Sean Cronin after 50 minutes on Saturday but again struggled for accuracy and consistency with his lineout throwing, and it would be no surprise to see Strauss involved against Ulster.

Isa Nacewa, as was reported at the weekend, is out for a period of six weeks following ankle surgery and the Ulster fixture will come too soon for Rob Kearney who has stepped up his rehabilitation from a hamstring problem.

Rory O’Loughlin could be available for the trip north after training today but Jamie Heaslip, Ian Nagle, Tom Daly and Garry Ringrose are all long-term absentees.

Meanwhile, James Lowe’s arrival at the province has been delayed another week at least after Tasman progressed to the final of the Mitro10 Cup, which takes place this weekend.

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Ryan Bailey

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