Robbie Henshaw was last night ruled out of Saturday’s third and final Test match with South Africa.
The Leinster-bound Connacht back will return home for knee cartilage surgery after suffering the injury during Ireland’s nightmare collapse against the Springboks in the last 20 minutes of Saturday’s second Test defeat, which levelled the series at 1-1 heading into this weekend’s decider in Port Elizabeth.
The news of the loss of another key frontline player – several including Johnny Sexton failed to even make the trip due to injury – came as a deeply disappointed Joe Schmidt was monitoring the recoveries of his players and assessing their capacity to go the well one last time in what will have been a 12-month season when the final whistle sounds on Saturday.
Both teams arrived on the Indian Ocean shoreline yesterday with six more days to prepare for the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium showdown but the recovery of Irish minds and bodies will occupy Schmidt’s thoughts for the coming days.
“Monday will be a recovery day and we’ll try to get a couple of really good trainings on Tuesday and Thursday and put ourselves together as best we can for Saturday.” The opening 26-20 victory in Cape Town, achieved with 14 men for the bones of an hour following CJ Stander’s red card, had taken a lot out of Schmidt’s players and forced him to bring in new faces for the second Test at altitude in Johannesburg.
Now the same freshening process seems just as necessary ahead of this series decider, particularly with Henshaw ruled out.
“I don’t think we’ve got a lot of choice again,” said Schmidt, who will have Stander available once more after the completion of the back rower’s one-week suspension.
“The fatigue factor comes in, you try to get a lead-in over the next 48 hours on who is recovering and who is bouncing back. Some guys might still be a bit fatigued on Tuesday, but we might want to give them a little bit more time and see how they go on Thursday and maybe even bracket a couple of guys, if needs be.”
It is unlikely the Irish management will call in new players from their standby list, with Schmidt saying there was scope within his existing squad to fill the vacancy for Henshaw’s outside centre berth.
“There are options with Luke Marshall still being in the squad. That was Luke’s first full Test for us last week (at Newlands) for a long time and I thought he did a super job.
“He’s played a fair bit at 13 this year so he would be one option, as would Jared Payne. He could slip back up into the 13 spot and Tiernan O’Halloran could go into the number 15 spot.”
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