Clarke injury could open way for new cap

 

THE recent form shown by the side has clearly influenced the Ireland selectors in making just two changes, one of them enforced, for the game against Wales in Cardiff next Saturday. But the selectors have been much more adventurous in the changes to the A side, and have called in Newcastle's Ross Nesdale as replacement hooker on the senior side.

Nesdale stands to win his first full cap if Allen Clarke's hand injury rules him out of the game. Clarke, who comes into the team for the injured Keith Wood, will have his fitness assessed when the squad assembles in Limerick this afternoon. Out half Eric Elwood (hamstring) is in a similar situation.

Commenting on Clarke's hand injury, the Northampton coach Ian McGeechan said yesterday: "It is hard to say at this stage whether or not he will be able to play, but I would think he has to be rated as quite doubtful. He has had the injury X rayed and it is a crack in a metacarpal. That kind of injury can be sore, but it may be more an irritant than anything else."

If Clarke is ruled out, then Nesdale will come in. Nesdale played for Newcastle against London Scottish in the English Cup on aturday and was watched by Ireland manager Pat Whelan.

"I can only wait and see now," Nesdale said from his home in Newcastle yesterday. "It would be hard luck on Allen Clarke if he has to withdraw. Obviously I would love to get into the side, but as of now I really do not know what my chances are," he said. "I was very pleased to come into the A side against France, but this would be a great honour."

Ross Nesdale is a cousin of Tom Nesdale, who played for Ireland in the second row against France in 1961. Ross Nesdale made 30 appearances for Auckland over a four year period. He was understudy to New Zealand captain Sean Fitzpatrick at Auckland. He qualifies to play for Ireland through his paternal grandfather, who was born in Bantry.

Elwood, who returned to the side against France after a year's absence, said yesterday that he is hopeful that his hamstring injury, which caused problems for him in Saturday's game for his club, Lansdowne, will respond to treatment. "I hope it will clear up and that I will be able to play," he said.

If Elwood is ruled out then David Humphreys will come into the team. Humphreys was on the bench against France - he had been added to the replacements in place of Paul Burke, who is still out because of a knee injury.

The selection of Jim Staples at full back for Conor O'Shea, in contrast, marks the return to the scene of Staples after it had been thought some weeks ago that he might not play again this season after sustaining a fractured jaw.

Explaining the decision to recall Staples, Whelan said: "We looked very carefully at the full back situation. Jim Staples had been chosen by us earlier this season but was then injured against Australia and again playing for Harlequins. Conor O'Shea has performed some of his duties exceptionally well, but I think Jim Staples brings a measure of experience and stability which Conor does not have at this stage.

Staples played for Ireland against Australia in November, but sustained a wrist injury in the early stages of the match. He then fractured his jaw playing for Harlequins, but made an exceptionally quick recovery.

Staples has been capped on 23 occasions, and captained Ireland against Fiji, USA, Scotland and France last season, but was injured against France and the captaincy passed to Niall Hogan. Hogan withdrew from the team against Australia in November and Wood was made captain and regained the job against Italy and France. But the selectors have not reverted to Hogan, and explaining that Whelan said: "We feel that Niall Hogan is better off at this stage concentrating on his own game without the burden of captaincy. Jim Staples is an experienced player and an experienced captain."

The decision to retain the three quarter line that played against France will most certainly not be greeted with unanimous agreement. Kurt McQuilkin did well when he came on as a replacement for Maurice Field against France and some would see him as worthy of inclusion. The back row was another area that surely came under scrutiny, but the selectors have opted for the same trio who played against France and have kept Eddie Halvey on the A side.

The A side which will meet Wales in Pontypridd next Friday will be very different to the team that lost to France. The selectors have come up with a few surprises - the choice of Gavin Walsh (Northampton) at tight head prop for instance. Walsh is a New Zealander, but does have an Irish passport and is qualified for Ireland. He played last season at club level in Scotland and had been under observation by the Exiles selectors. Walsh, who is 27, has played at provincial level for North Harbour in New Zealand He has just signed a three year contract with Northampton.

Whelan explained the background to Walsh's appearance in the Ireland colours. "Gary Halpin is injured, Peter Clohessy is in Australia and not available, and while we have Angus McKeen, if we lost him we would be in serious trouble. He (McKeen) has played for the A side and we felt this was a good opportunity to see Gavin Walsh"

The replacement scrum half in the A side is Guy Easterby, who has played for the Exiles in the interprovincial series, but who was recently chosen in the England A squad. He was watched by Ashton playing for Rotherham against Harlequins. "He has been chosen in the England A squad, but that is not a declaration and he is very happy to opt for Ireland now," said Whelan.

The A side shows seven changes and two positional alterations from the team that lost to the French. In the back line O'Shea comes in at full back for Ciaran Clarke, Brian Walsh is recalled in the centre for Brian Carey, who is injured, there is a recall on the left wing for Niall Woods, who replaces Richard Wallace, and for Niall Malone, who takes over at outhalf from Alan McGowan. In the pack, Shane Byrne is recalled at hooker for Mark McDermott, Gavin Walsh comes in for McKeen, in the back row Anthony Foley moves from the blind side flank to number eight for Ben Cronin and Eddie Halvey goes from the open side flank to the blind side, with Kieron Dawson, a new A cap, coming in on the open side for Halvey.