Gibbs out but Wood 'okay'
Ireland received distinctly more uplifting news than Wales yesterday regarding updates on two of the bulwarks of the Lions' tour. While Keith Wood came through his first training session in over a week and looks on course to lead Ireland at Lansdowne Road on Saturday, Welsh centre Scott Gibbs has been ruled out with a shoulder injury.
Gibbs has recently come in for some unexpected criticism in Welsh quarters arising from the porous nature of their midfield defence against England, especially, and also Scotland. The Lions' centre appeared to be drifting too early and leaving a gap inside him which Will Greenwood exploited at Twickenham four weeks ago.
Nonetheless, Gibbs is a big occasion player and has a huge physical presence, whereas his replacement Leigh Davies of Cardiff - talented though he is - is not as experienced.
Wood, meanwhile, continues to improve by the day, and the team manager, Pat Whelan, now sounds more optimistic that Ireland's dynamic hooker will have recovered from the lung infection which had laid him low over the last week.
"Woody took a full part in training so I think he'll be okay, unless he suffers a relapse, which I think is unlikely," said Whelan yesterday. "He's improved fairly consistently all week. It's a question as to whether his energy levels will hold up but he trained for an hour this morning and showed no ill effects."
Wood's recovery looks like removing one major headache for the Irish management although coach Warren Gatland will not decide on the exact composition of the replacements' bench until Saturday.
"We won't decide on the make-up of the replacements' bench until just before kick-off," revealed Whelan. "We're letting it go until the last minute."
In effect, Gatland and his advisers will have to omit one from the following: Mark McCall, David Humphreys, Brian O'Meara, Nick Popplewell, Ross Nesdale, Peter Clohessy, Mick Galwey and Eric Miller. They could opt for a bench of five forwards and two backs, with either Humphreys or McCall stepping down. Humphreys could miss out to his club-mate given McCall can cover at both centre and out-half - indeed he replaced Humphreys for London Irish during last Sunday's win over Wasps.
Bearing in mind the way the replacements were used tactically in Paris, a straight choice between Galwey and Miller seems the likeliest scenario. However, were Gatland inclined to have specialist cover for both the second-row and back-row in Galwey and Miller, then Popplewell would seem the more vulnerable of the two given tight-heads are generally deemed better suited to covering both sides of the scrum.
The A squad have also reported a clean bill of health prior to convening last night in advance of tomorrow's game with their Welsh counterparts. "Killian Keane suffered a knock playing for Garryowen at the weekend but he's back training," confirmed Whelan, while Paul Burke has also reported fit despite doubts arising from his absence for Bristol last weekend due to a knee injury.
Scott Quinnell has pulled out of that game following his dismissal for kneeing an opponent in Richmond's victory over Newcastle last Saturday, and the four-game ban meted out by his club effectively rules him out of the remainder of the Five Nations' championship.