Sexton and Kearney will be given every chance face New Zealand
McFadden ruled out while O’Driscoll nurses calf problem for one last crack at the All Blacks
Brian O’Driscoll at Carton House in Kildare ahead of the clash with the all Blacks. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
The prospects of Ireland being served up as a Sunday lunchtime roast for the delectation of the ravenous All Blacks in four days’ time won’t have receded in light of the latest medical bulletin from the Irish camp.
Ireland, 20-point and 9/1 underdogs for the match following last Saturday’s four tries to nil defeat to Australia, could wait until Saturday’s eve-of-match captain’s run at the Aviva Stadium before deciding on the fitness or otherwise of Johnny Sexton and Rob Kearney, although both look forlorn hopes at best.
Already resigned to being without Fergus McFadden due to a fractured fifth metatarsal in his right hand, which will sideline him for “a number of weeks”, the Irish management maintain that a scan on Sexton’s “suspected hamstring strain” was “less worrying than initially feared”.
For his part, Kearney suffered “subluxed costal cartilage”, which in layman’s terms is a dislocation between the ribs and the chest bone, and normally takes several weeks to overcome.
“I’d say that Joe [Schmidt] would like them to train by Friday,” said manager Mick Kearney yesterday, “but Rob and Jonathan are two world-class players and I think that Joe will give them every chance he can to have them ready on Sunday.”
Even endeavouring to play on Sunday looks risky for both, particularly in Sexton’s case.
There is also some slight concern over Brian O’Driscoll, who admitted to still being troubled by the calf problem which limited him to just one appearance this season, five weeks before the Samoa game, and which re-surfaced in the early stages of last Saturday’s defeat.
The clues are in the call-ups. Having already added Shane Jennings, Luke Fitzgerald, Andrew Trimble and Donncha O’Callaghan to the original squad, the management have this week called up the Ulster outside centre Darren Cave and the Munster fullback Felix Jones.
This would also suggest Schmidt and co are not of a mind to pitch Robbie Henshaw in against the All Blacks, either at fullback (where he played much of last season and won his first cap against the USA) or outside centre, where he has been playing this season.
“Not in my head there isn’t,” said O’Driscoll when asked if there were any lingering doubts regarding his availability for his 128th Test appearance for Ireland this Sunday. He didn’t train either yesterday, but he knows his own body better than most and reckons he’ll be as close to 100 per cent fit by Sunday as makes no difference.
“It’s in at the deep end and it’s not exactly as you would have planned for, you’d want to be up and running. I am still getting my match fitness up to speed now and hopefully after three 70-odd minutes I am getting up to pace. The intensity of training over the last three weeks has been really good, it has been short, sharp and a good opportunity to get a blow out at training and I think that serves you well for games. It is not the perfect scenario, but it’s the situation I find myself in and you just deal with it.”
Aside from limited game time and his niggling calf problem, O’Driscoll has also had to adapt to new defensive systems with province and country. “Perhaps there is a slightly different mindset there and systems are a bit different. I know Joe and I know the system so the error or two that I have come up with defensively is my own doing, it is not that I don’t know the system. This weekend I think there is a clear understanding of the need to defend as a unit.”
Collectively, he admitted that Ireland were “definitely too passive” in defence against Australia. “I think when you invite skilful players on with time and space they can pull all their tricks out. I think no player in the world likes having minimal time on the ball. Time on the ball gives you the chance to pick your pass or identify numbers, so it’s about trying to close the space a bit more and I think that will definitely be a bit of a focus this week.”
One imagines it will be alright.