One hard man for another

There’s mixed news for Ireland in advance of the three Test joust with New Zealand next month with Paul O’Connell likely to travel and Stephen Ferris almost certainly ruled out — an exchange of one hard man for another.

Although carrying injuries this week, other high profile players like Sean O’Brien and Cian Healy are likely to make the trip to front up against the World champions.

Irish team manager Michael Kearney outlined the situation yesterday at a pre-tour press conference at Carton House, Co Kildare. he didn’t even have to state the obvious on the iconic O’Connell, who showed no signs of a troublesome knee injury either in a training stint or as he bounced through the hotel later with not a sign of bandage or covering.

It wasn’t quite as optimistic when it came to talk of Ferris, a calf injury the source of worry that, Kearney admitted, could well rule him out. Leinster’s Kevin McLaughlin is starting the RaboDirect Pro12 for his province in Dublin tomorrow as he seeks out his second medal in a week. By then he could have received another boost with a call to arms for Ireland’s tour.

“Yes,” said Kearney, “I think there is a possibility he may miss the tour. He’s going over to Santry for a specialist to have a look at it so we’ll probably know a little bit more then. At the moment, he’d have to be considered a fairly serious doubt. A decision will be made on Stephen on Monday.”

“Paul O’Connell is progressing well, he did some running today and will be monitored over the next few days,” added Kearney, which suggested at worst the Munster skipper will be on the plane to New Zealand and ready to play in at least the second and third Tests if not the first.

Chris Henry and Brett Wilkinson are expected to play for Ireland against the Barbarians on Tuesday and will be assessed afterwards when a decision on their fitness to travel down under will be made.

Isaac Boss is also struggling and has been ruled out of the Rabo final. He will be monitored over the next few days before decision time. In the sweat box hoping to replace him will be Ulster’s Paul Marshall and departed Munsterman Tomás O’Leary, although not necessarily in that order by all accounts.

The news of O’Brien, incidentally, is that he had a “small” procedure on his knee during the week, similar to the one Brian O’Driscoll underwent and Kearney said: “We’re hopeful that he will be fit to tour. Cian Healy has a dead leg in the thigh area and again he’s undergoing a fitness test tomorrow [for Rabo final] but we’re hopeful that he will be fit to tour.”

Kearney admitted it would be a “tough ask” to be expected to defeat New Zealand in a Test series. “We haven’t beaten them ever, in 105 years, so it is a tough ask, but at the same time we believe we have a very good side and you have to set your standards; you can’t go out there with a negative attitude in any way, the players are positive, the coaching team is positive, and we work hard and do our best.”

In as much as Ireland might take encouragement from the French performance against the All Blacks in the World Cup, Kearney figures the positives or negatives that might be drawn from a closely fought final will mean nothing.

“The World Cup was what, seven months ago and they have a new coaching team in place, a number of new players, that’s very much in the past and so a different set of circumstances will prevail now. They will have players with a number of Super 15 games under their belt, they’re going to be fit and fresh, so I don’t think the World Cup final will have any great relevance to be honest.”


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