Changes unlikely for Ireland as walking wounded look to be in good health

Mike McCarthy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Les Kiss and Jamie Heaslip consult during Ireland's training session at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan

Mike McCarthy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Les Kiss and Jamie Heaslip consult during Ireland's training session at Carton House yesterday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan

Wed, Feb 6, 2013, 00:00

RUGBY:Despite their litany of bruises and bumps from their exertions last Saturday, and the ongoing concerns over Gordon D’Arcy and his second-half replacement in Cardiff, Keith Earls, the likelihood remains that Ireland will field an unchanged starting XV and replacements against England next Sunday.

D’Arcy’s knee was of major concern, but he has made good progress over the last two days, and even though Earls is to see a specialist today, his injury has been diagnosed as a sore shoulder. Along with the concussed Peter O’Mahony, who ran yesterday, neither would be able to play if the game was today or tomorrow, but team manager Mick Kearney yesterday maintained: “we would be hopeful that come Friday they’ll all partake fully in training and be available for selection.”

While Earls didn’t have his finest moment in a green shirt when seemingly picking the wrong line for Wales’ opening try by Alex Cuthbert, he is unlikely to be jettisoned for one mistake, not least as Simon Zebo might have helped plug the gap by pushing up harder.

Although inside centre would seem to be the biggest concern, Darren Cave and Andrew Trimble (rather than Paddy Wallace), along with Robbie Henshaw and Rhys Ruddock, were added to the 30-man squad for training yesterday.

Next in line

In the seemingly unlikely event that D’Arcy or Earls, or both, were ruled out, therefore, the likelihood is Fergus McFadden, who “played a fair bit of rugby earlier in the season at first centre for Leinster”, noted Kearney, would be next in line.

Well though Luke Fitzgerald has done on the comeback trail, Brian O’Driscoll was the only other option mentioned yesterday as an inside centre.

But that was neither a rip-roaring success in the first Test in New Zealand, nor is it likely to be the preferred choice of the deposed captain himself; all the more so after his performance in his customary outside centre role last Saturday.

Although Gert Smal is never inclined to become too carried away with one success, last Saturday’s opening win was encouraging. “The first thing is that I liked the way they applied themselves for the past two weeks in terms of their preparation and how they worked.

“The way that they went into the game for the whole of the first half when they really attacked, they showed what they can do at this level and that was one of the good things that came out of the game for me.”

That said, Ireland’s “exit strategy” allowed Wales back into the game, he admitted, and they struggled to stop the home side launching their big runners at the Irish defence.

Genuine momentum

Smal was part of the backroom team for both the 14-13 win in Croke Park in 2009 and the 24-8 win in the Aviva Stadium two seasons ago. On the latter occasion, although England were coming in search of a Grand Slam and still won the Six Nations title, this English team actually looks to have more genuine momentum after backing up the win over the All Blacks with last Saturday’s handsome win over the Scots.

“Their forwards are very strong and they have a very good set-piece, so that’s going to be a good challenge for us,” admitted Smal, and they also appears more balanced and better selected, when one recalls the midfield partnership two seasons ago of Shontayne Hape and Matt Banahan.

“They have expanded under (Stuart) Lancaster the way they want to play the game so it is a good all-round team with a very good set-piece,” said Smal. “I always say with the Irish that when they decide on a certain way of doing things they will do it and it is a very special attitude that when the chips are down – and you saw it in the second-half last Saturday – that they stand up to things and can pull through.

“The main thing is just to concentrate on ourselves first and make sure everything is in place. We don’t want to concentrate too much on them.”

That first meeting quickly underlined the meaning of this fixture for Ireland players and supporters to Smal, though he noted “it’s probably the same with South Africa as well. You can feel it in the camp, but on the day we have to put that performance together and for us it’s important as a team not to be too emotional, but to be accurate and execute the way we want to play the game.”

Two more year sKearney signs new contract

Rob Kearney yesterday put pen to paper on a new two-year contract to remain with Leinster until the end of the 2014-15 season.

Although the IRFU have yet to formally announce the 26-year-old Lions fullback’s extension, following on from Cian Healy and Mike Ross extending their stays with the province, the news will be a boost to Leinster.

Kearney is in his seventh year with the province, having made the first of 124 appearances in September 2005. He was named Irupa Players’ Player of the Year and the ERC European Player of the Year in 2012. The Clongowes Wood product made his Test debut against Argentina in 2007 and has 42 caps.

“Leinster Rugby has always been my home and I am very excited to be remaining here to play with a great bunch of players and coaching staff,” said Kearney. “I have been very lucky to have experienced success with that same group over the last number of years and with the great support we have, it made it a very easy decision for me.”

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