By Brendan Cole

French clubs are continuing to pursue Leinster back-row duo Sean O’Brien and Jamie Heaslip but at least one may have dropped out of the race for Heaslip after signing a high-profile southern hemisphere back-rower.

Reports in France have linked the Leinster duo to a number of Top 14 clubs, but Montpellier’s reputed interest in Heaslip may have ended as they are understood to have signed Wallaby back-rower Ben Mowen.

The 29-year-old Australia captain confirmed last night that he was quitting international rugby to play in France next year, citing excessive travel and family reasons for his decision. His specific destination has not yet been confirmed, but it is understood to be Montpellier.

According to sources in France, Heaslip is a target for both Toulon and Toulouse.

O’Brien, currently out of action with a shoulder injury and set to miss the first rounds of the upcoming RBS 6 Nations, is a target for a number of clubs, but Toulon are reputedly leading the race for his signature after making a substantial offer.

Neither Heaslip nor O’Brien, who are represented by different agents, has made a final decision on whether to leave Leinster or not. French media say that both will do so soon.

January is notorious for the sheer volume of speculative news reports that emanate from inside Top 14 clubs and not all turn out to be true, but the rumour mill proved to be entirely correct 12 months ago when Leinster out-half Jonathan Sexton became the first high-profile Irish player to quit his Irish province for a French club by signing for Racing Metro.

Unlike Mowen, Sexton has been able to continue his international career.