Strauss joined by three other new caps
AS EXPECTED, Richardt Strauss is in line to be named on the bench and thus make his debut for Ireland against his native South Africa at the Aviva Stadium on November 8th. He could therefore conceivably come face to face with his cousin Adriaan, who finished the Rugby Championship as the incumbent Springboks hooker when wining his 18th cap against the All Blacks.
The odds on all this coming to pass shortened markedly yesterday when Declan Kidney named the 26-year-old Leinster player as one of only two hookers in his 31-man squad which will come together next week. There are three other uncapped players; Ulster’s 20-year-old blindside Iain Henderson, 21-year-old Ulster centre Luke Marshall and 23-year-old Munster loosehead David Kilcoyne.
They look like longer-term investments, although Kilcoyne must be pushing Tom Court close as back-up to Cian Healy.
In another development, the coaching stuff has a less skeletal look to it, with Leinster scrum coach Greg Feek doubling up again through November, while Munster have released Anthony Foley for the November window to work as defence coach, thereby releasing Les Kiss to focus more on attack.
Parts of the playing squad still require some fleshing out, not least at fullback and at tighthead, with Kidney strongly intimating there may be additions to the squad after this weekend’s Rabo PRO12 games and possibly after the following weekend’s games as well.
With Rob Kearney to undergo an operation on a slipped disc in his back today, and with Geordan Murphy, Luke Fitzgerald and Gavin Duffy all sidelined, there is no specialist fullback in the squad. Keith Earls is the only feasible option of those named, and he has missed Munster’s two Heineken Cup games with a groin injury.
His only cap at fullback since his debut against Canada four years ago was in the 24-8 win which denied England a Grand Slam two seasons ago. His free-running performance brought to mind Christian Cullen, although it’s worth noting Earls didn’t have to make one tackle nor field one high ball that day.
Despite being named in the 33-man squad for the two-day camp in September, Denis Hurley is one of those not to make the cut this time. Seán Cronin, Damien Varley, Declan Fitzpatrick and Dave O’Callaghan also miss out, with Strauss, Kilcoyne and John Muldoon called up.
Kidney named all the remaining fullback contenders yesterday, starting with converted outhalves Ian Keatley and Ian Madigan, as well as Robbie Henshaw, but all eyes are now primarily on Munster, for if they were to name Felix Jones at fullback tomorrow for his first start since early May in tomorrow’s game against Zebre at Thomond Park, it would strongly suggest he’s first in line of those not named yesterday.
The Zebre game will come too soon for Earls, and there remain injury clouds over Stephen Ferris and Ronan O’Gara, though Kidney expects all of them “to train fully next week”.
As Mike Ross is the only tight-head named, Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick, Connacht’s Ronan Loughney, Sale’s Tony Buckley and the ex-Ulster and Exeter 28-year-old John Andress, whose Worcester Warriors host Sale this weekend, will be monitored this weekend.
Strauss arrived in Dublin in early November 2009 (he had his passport stamped on November 4th) and his call-up was simply due to form, according to Kidney.
Others who have played for Ireland through residency include Kurt McQuilkin, who had been playing with Bective Rangers for years and also Leinster before winning the first of his five caps in January 1996, while it would be nothing compared to Warren Gatland plucking Andy Ward from Division Three rugby with Ballynahinch for the first of his 28 caps, against France in Paris in 1998.