Geoghegan confident of proving his fitness

 

FIVE members of the 21-man Ireland panel for the International Championship match against Wales at Lansdowne Road next Saturday are under medical treatment, and took only a limited part (no part in the case of centre Jonathan Bell) in the raining sessions at Lansdowne Road on Saturday and yesterday morning.

Yet, despite the depleted squad and the curtailment of the activity of some players in it, the expectation is that Ireland will be able to play as selected. But there is a change on the A side to meet Wales on Friday. Hooker Shane Byrne is ruled out by an ankle injury and his place will be taken by Paul Cunningham (Garryowen), who will win his first A cap. Billy Mulcahy (Skerries) takes over from Cunningham on the bench.

There is, however, a lingering, if slight, doubt about the fitness [of wing Simon Geoghegan for the senior encounter on Saturday. Geoghegan missed the match against France because of a hamstring strain and that has not completely cleared up. The Ireland manager Pat Whelan said that a decision on Geoghegan's fitness will be made on Thursday morning. But both the player and manager are confident that this time Geoghegan will be able to play.

"It is still not quite right and got a bit tight when I ran full out on it, but I think I will be fit for Saturday," said Geoghegan.

Geoghegan trained for about half an hour with the squad on Saturday morning but then stopped. He confined his subsequent activities to some light running and stretching exercises. Whelan said: "This time we are quite confident that Simon will be fit, but we will wait until Thursday before making a definite decision." In the unlikely event of his being ruled out, Richard Wallace will again come into the side as he did in Paris. Wallace is due to play for the A side and, should he be promoted, then the likely replacement on the A team is Darragh O Mahony.

Bell was confined to the team hotel because of a heavy cold on Saturday when two sessions took place for both the senior and A teams. He did attend the session yesterday but only as a spectator. Second row Jeremy Davidson got a bruised thigh on Saturday afternoon and that restricted his subsequent activity. Number eight Victor Costello is troubled by a slight groin strain and he, too. was unable to take a full part yesterday. Replacement back Kurt McQuilkin also got a knock yesterday morning. but there is little doubt about his fitness.

Because of the injuries to Geoghegan and McQuilkin and with Bell unable to participate, the arrangement to finish the weekend work with a short "match " between the senior and A sides had to be replaced by what was the most vigorous activity of what was a low key weekend, the senior and A packs in opposition. A few tempers rose, before being cooled when referee Alan Lewis called a halt with his whistle. The packs had earlier gone to Merrion Road to do some work on a scrummaging machine before returning to Lansdowne Road to join the backs.

Scrum half Alain Rolland, who is due to captain the A team, was unable to do any meaningful work. But his injury is responding to treatment and both he and the medical advisers are now very hopeful that he will be able to play. A decision on his fitness will also be made on Wednesday. If he is ruled out his place will be taken by Stephen McIvor (Garryowen) and Andrew Matchett (Ballymena) will be on the bench.

Two of the senior side's reserves, outside half Paul Burke and prop Henry Hurley, played club matches on Saturday afternoon, as neither has had a match in recent weeks. Burke played for his club Cork Constitution against Monkstown in Cork and Hurley played for DLSP against Bective Rangers. They both took a full-part in the work yesterday morning.

Commenting on the tenor of the sessions, Whelan said: "The players were under a lot of pressure in Paris for all the various reasons we know. We decided to hold the sessions in a relaxed environment. The whole weekend has been on that basis. We cut down on the number of team meetings. We have not put any pressure on them. When you suffer a defeat like we did in Paris, the worst thing you can do is increase pressure in the circumstances.

"Our whole objective has been to refocus the team and work on the game plan and try and improve certain areas. We have a number of changes some enforced, other not so. We know the strength of the Welsh in the line out and we are working on numerous ways to counter them in that area. That was an important part of the work at the weekend.

"We hope the changes we have made will bring significant improvements. We are playing at Lansdowne Road and that is a big advantage for us."

He confirmed that new cap Simon Mason will be doing the place kicking. "He is a specialist place kicker with a great track record for his club. That will take pressure off David Humphreys."