Ireland’s head coach will give first-choice hooker Rory Best the maximum available time, until 48 hours before kick-off on Saturday at 6.30am Irish time, to recover from a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder.
Leinster’s Sean Cronin is set to deputise in the front row if Best fails to be passed fit with Damien Varley ready to take Cronin’s place on the bench and Mike Sherry set to fly to Wellington tomorrow as precautionary cover.
Ireland had been forced to train indoors yesterday in Wellington as the rain poured on the New Zealand capital and while the drizzle continued ahead of today’s outdoor session, Kidney said he could wait until the 48-hour deadline.
“I wouldn’t want to tempt fate but he’s not ruled out, which is always the first sign,” Kidney said, adding that Best was recovering more quickly than expected. He had a good day now yesterday, which everybody was very positive about and we have to see how he wakes up after that.”
Another formidable challenge awaits against Wales this weekend and Kidney will be keen to keep a winning blend on the pitch, although Cronin, who replaced Best last Sunday after 54minutes has impressed the coaching staff during his 80 minutes against Russia and his stint off the bench against Italy.
Despite his intention to send out the same team that scored an emphatic victory over the Azzurri in Dunedin last time out, Kidney insisted selection across the whole 15 places had been more difficult than imagined.
“A couple of hours went into picking it,” he said, “but not so much a reflection of the fellas that were picked, it’s the guys that we didn’t pick because there’s lots of talent there that isn’t getting to start. So it wasn’t one of those meetings where you say ‘we’ll go with the same again’ and everybody nods their head. It took a couple of hours again and we’ve ended up with the same that started the last day.”
It is the half-back berths that can be assumed to have taken up most of that time in the selection meeting, 22-year-old Murray winning out at scrum-half over the more experienced Eoin Reddan following assured, for the most part, performances in closing out the 15-6 win over Australia and his 74 minutes against Italy.
At fly-half, O’Gara gets the nod again over Jonathan Sexton as Kidney stuck by his policy of equivocation in discussing the five half-backs – Isaac Boss being the third scrum-half —insisting there was no clear-cut number one in either position.
“It’s one of these ones where, because of my belief in the other guys, you could have easily justified bringing in the other lads. I thought Conor and Ronan did okay last week, they finished off Australia playing quite well. They’ve played together a bit before.”
The forecast is also bound to have come into the decision-making process with a windswept and rainy Wellington set to be the backdrop to this clash of Six Nations rivals at the southern end of New Zealand’s North Island. That would tend to O’Gara’s currently superior goal-kicking and game management over Sexton’s naturally more expansive game and although both teams have plenty of creative flair, the conditions may reduce this knockout contest to a more forward-orientated struggle.
Of Sherry’s impending arrival and the possibility he might not be needed, Kidney stressed calling up the young Munster hooker was the prudent thing to do. “We said we needed to build a squad and we’re getting the proof of it now.”
R Kearney (Leinster); T Bowe (Ospreys), B O’Driscoll (Leinster) – captain, G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); R O’Gara (Munster), C Murray (Munster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster) or S Cronin (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster); D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster); S Ferris (Ulster), S O’Brien (Leinster), J Heaslip (Leinster).
Replacements: S Cronin (Leinster) or D Varley (Munster), T Court (Ulster), D Ryan (Munster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), J Sexton (Leinster), A Trimble (Ulster).
ITALY hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini was yesterday suspended for 15 weeks after acknowledging he had been guilty of an act of foul play against Ireland prop Cian Healy on Sunday. Ghiraldini was cited for contact “with the eye or the eye area of an Irish player” and while he admitted a breach of Law 10.4(m), the Treviso hooker denied his actions were deliberate. Ghiraldini can resume playing on January 18, 2012, which will enable him to return in time for the start of Italy’s RBS 6 Nations campaign. He has 48 hours to appeal the decision.