Kidney facing a selection headache

INJURIES to several players mean Declan Kidney will have a tougher than usual task in naming his side to play France in the RBS Six Nations at the Stade de France on Saturday at lunchtime today.

Although the likelihood is Ronan O’Gara and Paul O’Connell, both of whom were injured in the win over Italy on Saturday, will be declared fit, there is a doubt about left-wing Andrew Trimble, while Donncha O’Callaghan and Stephen Ferris, both of whom missed out last week, will be closely monitored at training this morning before any definite decision can be made.

Irish team announcements continue to arouse tremendous interest among the rugby public. This time last week, almost all of the speculation centred on the out-half position. Would it be Ronan O’Gara or Jonathan Sexton? Injury to the Leinster number 10 put an end to that debate and after O’Gara’s excellent performance against Italy, and regardless of Sexton’s availability, the issue has been put to bed for now.

However, Sexton has shaken off the effects of a knock to his thigh and could be drafted into the replacement panel for Paris. But that would be at the expense of Paddy Wallace, who can play out-half or first centre and so will probably retain Kidney’s favour.

At the best of times, it is not easy to read the coach’s mindset but when there are doubts about several players, then it is virtually impossible. Manager Paul McNaughton stated yesterday that while O’Gara and O’Connell are pretty sure to be named in the starting XV at lunchtime, Trimble’s hamstring strain remains a source of some concern.

If Trimble has to drop out, then Munster’s Keith Earls will come in for his seventh cap and his first appearance in the Six Nations Championship. That leaves the O’Callaghan and Ferris situation to be cleared up.

The indications are that the big Munster second row is closer to proving his fitness than the Ulster blind side flanker, who has been troubled by a knee injury for over two weeks. McNaughton revealed that “his ability to train has been limited and Stephen and Donncha are the two we are monitoring most closely. Again, we will be clearer about them over the next couple of days and we’re not ruling them out at this stage. Donncha trained fully over the last couple of days and he probably is ahead of Stephen but these things change and there can be reactions.”

LEINSTER captain Leo Cullen made a successful return to Six Nations rugby on Saturday and so Kidney will have a difficult call to make should O’Callaghan, as seems likely, be declared fit. If Ferris is again ruled out – and his physicality would be badly missed – the expectation is that Kevin McLaughlin will hold off his Leinster team mate Sean O’Brien for the number six jersey.

Apart from the uncertainty created by the injured contingent, it is likely that Kidney will stick with the side that accounted for Italy. In spite of the poor quality of the play, few Irish players did themselves unredeemable damage although a repeat of Rob Kearney’s jittery display at full-back would be most undesirable and a hint that he is not the same player who shone so brightly for the Lions in summer last South Africa. However, he is too good a footballer to have gone off the boil to the extent that was witnessed against Italy and anyway has no apparent rival for the number 15 jersey.

Although Marcus Horan is now back to full fitness, the probability is that Ulster’s Tom Court will retain his place as replacement prop.

Marc Lievremont, the French coach, yesterday declared himself satisfied with the 18-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday and has retained the same squad of 23. Clermont Auvergne wing Aurelien Rougerie, Bayonne wing Benjamin Fall and Castres prop Luc Ducalcon are having various injuries assessed in Paris prior to the announcement of the team in Marcoussis tomorrow morning.

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