Declan Kidney has backed Paul O’Connell to be fit for Ireland’s three match tour of New Zealand.
Vowing there would be no room for passengers on the gruelling assignment, the Irish coach feels O’Connell can overcome a serious knee injury and take his second row place against the world champions at Eden Park on June 9.
Kidney said: “I’d be thinking on the upper side of 50-50 (chances of making it), I’d be hopeful of him coming back but I didn’t want to name people carrying injuries. If Paul is fit to take part in the tour he’ll tour. If he’s not going to be fit then we’ve another line of candidates, but I’d be quite hopeful.”
With the likes of Mike McCarthy and Devin Toner mentioned by Kidney as front-runners should O’Connell fail to make the cut, it seems unlikely he would turn to Leinster’s hero Heineken Cup skipper Leo Cullen. The coach cited his exclusion and the absence of Shane Jennings and Paddy Wallace as being down to his wish to cut the age profile of the squad.
To that end, he has included Munster youngsters Mike Sherry and Simon Zebo and these two uncapped players will be joined by a third in Ulster prop Declan Fitzpatrick, whose powerful performance in the Heineken Cup semi-final victory over Edinburgh helped seal selection. Eleven of Leinster’s Heineken Cup-winning squad are selected, including centre and captain Brian O’Driscoll, who missed the Six Nations after a shoulder operation.
Although the intensity of three games against the All Blacks in successive weeks will require Kidney to press his most experienced players into action, he has not ruled out making full use of his resources. Kidney said his intention was not to have any “passengers” on the tour and insisted a full participation by as many players as possible was vital.
Kidney also admitted he was tempted to spread the net wider to a growing group of quality young Irish players but said the sheer weight of numbers was against it. “You can only bring so many players; it’s not possible to bring 45 players, three for each position.
“That means we might have to ask players (when you study it), it could be at full back where Rob (Kearney) is, who might not prefer to play there to actually play there. But that’s what you get in a touring situation and the choice is what’s right for the team as against what’s right for the individual; most front rows would probably love to play for Ireland at half back but they’re quite willing to play at front row.”
Ireland play the Barbarians in a warm-up in Gloucester on Tuesday.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved