O'Brien faces up to six months out of action. Billy Stickland/INPHO
tullow tank

'It's a dark enough place' - Kearney feels for O'Brien after latest injury blow

Leinster will look to the likes of Rhys Ruddock to fill the potential ball-carrying deficit created by injuries to O’Brien and Cian Healy.

LEINSTER FULLBACK ROB Kearney has expressed his disappointment for teammate Sean O’Brien, after the back row was ruled out for up to six months following a shoulder reconstruction which set to take place tomorrow.

The province’s head coach Matt O’Connor insists O’Brien is now in good spirits having recovered from the initial setback when medical staff made the decision to operate on the same shoulder that saw the Ireland international miss much of last season.

O’Connor denied the suggestion that O’Brien had returned to action too soon after the initial shoulder dislocation, while also stressing the need for the 27-year-old to come back with full mobility in the joint this time around.

“It’s awful. It’s really tough on him, it’s a dark enough place, especially when he’s gone through the surgery the first time, then had the ankle, then it looked as if everything was ok and the shoulder popped back up again,” said Kearney in UCD this afternoon.

It’s part and parcel of the game, and sometimes some guys unfortunately get a bit worse luck than others. Seanie is that person this time.”

O’Connor understandably underlined that everyone within the Leinster group is “very disappointed” for O’Brien, but commented that the Tullow man is “upbeat, positive and just wants to get well and play again.”

“He was [down] when the thinking was, earlier in the week, that we were going to go down that road [surgery]. He’s very comfortable with the decision and wants to get the shoulder and ankle sorted.

LeinsterÕs Sean OÕBrien O'Brien featured for Leinster in their opening-day Pro12 defeat to Glasgow. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

“There’s upsides as there’s opportunities for him to get himself right,” continued the Australian. “There’s a World Cup around the corner and hopefully there’s several more seasons of being at the top level for us.”

“We were pretty cautious with him last time, we didn’t push him back. There was an issue with the surgery because of the infection and some of the procedure didn’t take as well as they would have liked because of the infection.”

With O’Brien joining teammates Cian Healy as a long-term absentee at Leinster, the province have been shorn of their two leading ball-carriers for the crucial upcoming months.

One of the men who will be asked to step into the role as a focal point for generating gainline momentum will be 23-year-old Rhys Ruddock, who has started the season in superb form.

I think across the course of last year Rhys did, on the big stage with us and even with Ireland at the end of the season, demonstrate that [ball-carrying ability]” said O’Connor.

“He had a couple of fairly devastating carries against Cardiff at the weekend, so that’s something that we’ll need to get in our game with no Cian and Sean. We’ll be looking for other blokes to stick their hands up and carry the ball. I think Rhys, Jamie [Heaslip] and Dominic [Ryan] have done that.”

Leinster’s Rhys Ruddock Rhys Ruddock's ball-carrying strength becomes even more important for Leinster now. Inpho / Billy Stickland Inpho / Billy Stickland / Billy Stickland

Kearney concurred with O’Connor’s belief that Leinster have the players in situ to replace the boulder-like power O’Brien and Healy often display in attack.

“We’re very lucky we’ve got Jack [McGrath] and Rhys there, Jenno [Shane Jennings] too – we’ve guys who are well able to step up and have done in those positions,” said the Ireland fullback.

Leinster’s potential problem is Ireland’s possible downfall too, as Joe Schmidt looks to the November Tests against South Africa, Georgia and Australia without his two main carriers.

The Six Nations looks doubtful for Healy and O’Brien too at this stage, meaning Ruddock may come to the fore in green as well as blue this season.

I think there’s nothing in Rhy’s game that doesn’t indicate to us that he’ll be a world-class six moving forward,” agreed O’Connor.

“You wouldn’t necessarily stretch that out to seven, but his line-out skills and the way he carries the ball, his work-rate, are unbelievable for us. From that end, he should have a very, very bright future ahead of him.”

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