Kidney last night named a strong team to face Eddie O’Sullivan’s Eagles with loosehead prop Cian Healy, back-rower Sean O’Brien and full-back Rob Kearney the only omissions on grounds of fitness. All should be available for selection for next weekend’s big game against Australia in Auckland but, in the meantime, Tom Court, Shane Jennings and Geordan Murphy respectively have been given chances to stake their claims with a start against the Americans.
Gordon D’Arcy did pass fit following a quicker than expected recovery from a calf strain that delayed his arrival in New Zealand by four days and, having completed a 35-hour journey only last Monday, he will form a tried and tested midfield partnership with captain Brian O’Driscoll.
It is 22-year-old Murray’s inclusion, however, that is the biggest surprise, if not for his assuredness when thrown into the spotlight with both Munster and Ireland but given his international inexperience. Murray’s first cap came in August as a substitute in Bordeaux against France and he reprised the role off the bench against England in Dublin in the final warm-up Test on August 27.
Murray’s performances were enough to earn a place in Kidney’s World Cup squad at the expense of provincial team-mate Tomás O’Leary and now the Ireland coach believes he has done enough since arriving in New Zealand to usurp the more experienced Eoin Reddan, who will start on the bench at Stadium Taranaki, and Isaac Boss.
“He’s been going well at training and we said we’d judge it off that,” Kidney said before repeating the old maxim that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.
“If we are to know, now is the time to know.
“I would be giving him a mixed message if I told him we were doing anything with a view to next week. It’s on the back of what he’s done; he deserves a go, even though it is his first start.
“We think he is good enough to start. It’s a big call, giving him the first game of the World Cup, but what he has been doing, I believe merits it.”
Ulster’s Andrew Trimble might have believed he merited a place on the wing having started all four warm-up Tests but he loses out to Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls.
“You have three wingers that are going well, but Keith has had three games, two in the centre,” Kidney explained. “I just felt it was right to give him the go on the wing. He’s only had one run on the wing and he’s done well for us there.
“Tommy is coming back from an injury and just has one game under his belt. Andrew is losing out and he’s unlucky. He’s had four games and he’s done very well for us. Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls haven’t let us down before and with another game under their belts means they can come through very strongly for us.”
The pack will see Stephen Ferris start at blindside with Jennings at seven and Jamie Heaslip occupying his usual berth at No.8 as Kidney tries to gain supremacy in the tackle area. The Irish management believes the Americans will throw numbers into the breakdown and in O’Brien’s absence, Jennings — a late call-up for the injured David Wallace — Kidney feels is a ready-made replacement.
“He would have been fit to play,” Kidney said of O’Brien. “Medically he would have been fit to have been passed and fitness-wise he would have been allowed play. I’ve seen fellas with injuries like that before and I think he’s due to get absolute full fitness back and I suppose I believe in the squad as well and as a result I think that’s a good [back-row] combination.
“Jenno’s going okay in training and he has a bit of match time under his belt as well.”
Is Kidney sending out a team capable of making a strong statement to ease fears back home that the August warm-ups were ominous for Ireland’s World Cup prospects? Possibly, although Kidney surprisingly gave a nod to his predecessor O’Sullivan’s influence as the opposing coach and the possibility of an American side strongly motivated on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I believe it’s a team that will win a match,” Kidney said. “This is going to be a tough match because of a little bit of insider knowledge.
“Eddie obviously knows the players very well, will know strengths and weaknesses.
“He’s a top-class coach and this game will mean an awful lot to him. With the date and everything, there will be an awful lot of emotion floating around and he’ll be a good man to keep a lid on that and use it in a good way.”