Horan and Flannery remain main doubts


AUTUMN INTERNATIONALS:MARCUS HORAN, especially, and Jerry Flannery remain the primary concerns ahead of the Test against Australia on Sunday week at Croke Park. Horan’s condition has been the subject of much rumour-mongering since he left the pitch 17 minutes into Munster’s Heineken Cup win against Treviso two-and-a-half weeks ago feeling faint and dizzy, and more definitive word on his wellbeing will be known tomorrow.

“We can’t give any more information, really,” said Ireland coach Declan Kidney yesterday at the squad’s base in the Carlton Castletroy Park Hotel in Limerick. “There are ongoing investigations, and as you know he has not been able to train. He’s not ruled out of the Australia match but is on the hind foot. He would need to be active next week to be involved. The fact that Marcus didn’t play for Munster for a week or two before is something we’ll have to take a look at.”

When pressed further, Kidney said: “The latest we have is that they would have something concrete by Friday. I would only be adding to rumours if I was to come out and say something now. But I was talking to him, he’s in good form – giving out to me as much as ever. He’s just not medically right. Sometimes you can talk about injuries in terms of calves and muscles, but this is something else. What it is I just don’t know yet.”

Furthermore, Flannery, who hasn’t played since tearing his calf after his sole start of the season against Northampton almost four weeks ago, has had “a setback in training this week”. With Rory Best sidelined for the season, and John Hayes suspended for five weeks, Ireland could yet go into the autumn internationals without their entire Grand Slam winning frontrow and their main back-up hooker.

“It’s not ideal, but if you wait for the ideal it will probably never arise. John (Hayes) will be fresh when he comes in. We’ll see what happens with the hooker,” he said, pointing to the options provided at prop by Cian Healy, Brett Wilkinson, Tom Court and Mike Ross. That said, even though Hayes’ suspension does not expire until Saturday night, the likelihood is that the Bull will start against the Wallabies.

The 39-man squad will be trimmed to 30 or 31 tomorrow, along with the announcement of the 22-man A squad for the game against Tonga on Friday week in Belfast but, compounding the frontrow woes, Tomás O’Leary, Paddy Wallace and Denis Leamy all have colds while Rob Kearney, Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll could only train at “50 per cent”, ie non-contact work, yesterday.

Leo Cullen is also “rehabbing” while David Wallace will hopefully resume training today. All of which prompted Kidney to remark “I’m glad we’re not playing this week.”

At least the return to full form and health of O’Driscoll has been a boon and Kidney confirmed he would captain the side again this November.

“The team is blessed with quite a number of leaders,” said Kidney. “Since we last spoke Paul (O’Connell) has obviously captained the Lions and done very well, Donncha (O’Callaghan) has captained the Lions, Ronan (O’Gara) has captained the Lions as well as Munster. In Brian’s case he brings a lot of experience to it. He’s motoring well at the moment so for a whole host of reasons it was appropriate to stay with him.”

Limiting the reappointment to this November “helps in Brian’s case, too, as it doesn’t keep the pressure on him for the whole year and it allows him to come and be captain, and then to get on with his game in December and January, and we’ll see then again come February,” said Kidney, who added that O’Driscoll’s enthusiasm for the job is, if anything, growing.

Ironically, Ireland were under intense pressure to cling onto their eighth-placed ranking in the world this time a year ago, whereas now they are fourth, but Kidney likened this to “playing really well in the pro-am. It doesn’t mean anything.”

As for the Wallabies, being bottom of the heap in the Tri- Nations still leaves them third in the world. “There was talk of crisis here, too, last year so I wouldn’t be too worried about it. We have played them 10 times in the professional era and only won twice. We’d have as much concern on our side as they would on theirs.”

Assistant/backs coach Alan Gaffney maintained his countrymen were “really close to being a very good side. There’s no doubt that there are areas of their game that they’d like to improve on, being able to finish games off, they led a lot of those Tri-Nations games at half-time but haven’t been able to go on and complete the task,” he added, pointing to their much improved scrum and suggesting the return of Nathan Sharpe will improve their lineout.

Les Kiss, the other Aussie on Ireland’s coaching ticket, was particularly intrigued by the radically altered leadership structure under new captain Rocky Elsom. Dispensing with experience such as Phil Waugh’s would suggest they are in pretty good shape, he reckoned. “And they are, they’ve got some good young kids coming through. It’s a dangerous beast, a wounded Wallaby, and it’s interesting having Rocky as captain. It brings a lot of interest into the game but generally they’re the type of players, they just want to sniff one opportunity, and the first team that gives them one they’re going to take it.”