Ireland insist on some blue sky thinking when it comes to stadium roof
RUGBY:The Ireland squad arrived safe and sound in Cardiff yesterday evening, with the management confident Rob Kearney will be fit to play despite twisting his knee in training last Tuesday.
They will have their captain’s run at 2pm in the Millennium Stadium today and given the favourable forecast for tomorrow’s game, will insist on the roof remaining open despite Rob Howley’s preference for it to be closed.
“We would like the roof closed with the conditions of the last 10 days; which have been pretty awful.
“We always want to play good rugby in good conditions,” said the interim Welsh coach yesterday after unveiling his starting team and replacements for the beginning of their Grand Slam defence.
But after another wet morning today, and a shower or two at tea-time, tomorrow’s forecast is for a sunny day of around five degrees with little wind factor come the 1.30pm kick-off.
With Ryan Jones ruled out for another week due to the dislocated finger he suffered with the Ospreys against Leicester 10 days ago, in addition to their three World Cup locks (Alun Wyn-Jones, Luke Charteris and Bradley Davies), Howley has opted to start Ian Evans for his first game since the Samoan defeat in mid-November. Evans has never been on the losing side in nine appearances in the Six Nations.
Computer software salesman
Alongside him will be the team’s one debutant, the late developing 28-year-old Andrew Coombs, a former computer software salesman who played Welsh Premiership club rugby with Pontypool and Newport before graduating into the Dragons’ professional ranks three seasons ago and only recently switched positions from backrow to lock.
Elsewhere, there is still quite an experienced look to the Welsh team, with Howley re-uniting the 2009 British and Irish Lions Test frontrow of Gethin Jenkins, who wins his 95th cap, Matthew Rees and the hugely-important Adam Jones, fit again after being sorely missed in all of Wales’ autumn series due of a knee injury.
The trio thus extend their Welsh frontrow partnership record to 22 Tests, and although Howley cited the fact Jenkins played for 60 minutes last week, the evidence suggests his move to Toulon has not particularly benefited his game. “As a squad we have worked hard over the past two weeks and go into Saturday excited and confident at defending our title,” said Howley.
“It’s a boost to have Adam and Ian return from injury and it’s a great opportunity for Andrew who has been performing well at regional level to show what he can do on this stage. The Six Nations is all about momentum and we know we have to hit the ground running against Ireland.”
The Welsh coach has also resisted the clamour to field two openside flankers – captain Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric – with Warburton retained in his familiar number seven shirt, alongside Aaron Shingler and Toby Faletua in the back-row that finished the autumn series.