Kearney in frame for Wales Test


RUGBY NEWS:ROB KEARNEY is set to be back in the frame for selection against Wales at Croke Park on Saturday week, thereby creating something of a headache for Declan Kidney and the Irish coaches, albeit of the kind they would want, writes GERRY THORNLEY

In only his second game in five months, Geordan Murphy could hardly have acquitted himself any better against England, but Kearney had started Ireland’s previous 10 games at fullback save for last summer’s Americas’ tour.

The Lions’ fullback sustained strained knee ligaments when attempting to turn on the Stade de France pitch in the build-up to France’s second try by Yannick Jauzion in round two last month, and the initial prognosis of a five-week lay-off would have taken him up to the day of the Scottish game.

But when asked yesterday if Kearney would now be in consideration for the Wales match, Kidney commented: “The way he trained this morning, certainly. He went about his business well but he didn’t do any of the contact so we just have to see if there is any reaction, if it stiffens up after this morning’s run or not. At the moment, he has every chance of putting himself forward.”

Several other players were nursing minor grievances which limited their participation in the two-day get-together for all bar Murphy of the starting XV against England, ie Jamie Heaslip (sore ankle), David Wallace (general soreness), Tommy Bowe and Keith Earls (both had stomach bugs) while they “kept an eye” on Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy.

They are not expected to be troubled by their various complaints while the squad was supplemented by the presence of Paddy Wallace, Andrew Trimble and Shane Jennings for a day each.

The sight of O’Driscoll twice collapsing to the Twickenham turf remains an upsetting image for many Irish rugby supporters and concerns remain about him having potentially suffered concussion, but Kidney dismissed those worries as the Irish captain prepares for his 100th Test in an Irish jersey.

“Yeah, he’s good,” said Kidney. “He trained this morning. Obviously, any time a fella takes a bang you keep him out of contact for a while, especially when you don’t have another match coming up but he has trained fully and he was driving them on the same way as he always does.

“There are different steps you take when a guy takes a bang like that but he has been symptom-free from the start. All the tests he has done have shown him clear and he will see specialists before he resumes any contact work or anything like that. That’s just standard operation.”

The squad worked out at a new base for them, Carton House near Maynooth. Aside from its two award-winning championship golf courses set amongst over 1,000 acres of woodlands and the sun-glinted River Rye, there are two, adjacent sand-based pitches akin to billiard tables. If it’s good enough for Real Madrid, and according to the brochure Queen Victoria, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier, not to mention the first Duke of Leinster (who roughed it out by choosing it for his “country seat” in 1739), then it’s good enough for Deccie and the boys.

Realistically, Ireland’s grip on the championship trophy has all but been relinquished. With France boasting a points’ difference of +37, to Ireland’s -1, it would probably require home defeats for France by both Italy and England, or by the latter with Ireland running up highly unlikely winning margins at home to Wales and Scotland, for Kidney’s team to win this year’s Six Nations. This is reflected in Paddy Powers’ odds on France (1/50), Ireland (14/1) and England (25/1). Against that, Ireland are 4 to 9 to win a fifth Triple Crown in seven years.

Kidney accepted it is France’s title to lose. “Yeah, that’s the way it goes. There’s no bonus points to be made up so if France win their two matches they have it. We’ll keep chasing, we don’t mind doing that (but) you don’t even think of it like that. We just have a Test match against Wales coming up and if we were to think about anything other than that. Where you end up in the table at the end of the year is a consequence of how you go about each match. We’re not really good enough to do anything other than that. We need to come out with our top game against Wales in eight days’ time.”

Save for the concession of 17 point while Alun Wyne Jones was sin binned against England and three intercept tries against England and France, Kidney described Wales’ performances as exceptional, also pointing to their win in Croke Park two years ago, the closeness of last year’s unforgettable tournament climax.

“They play a very fluid game. They will certainly stretch you from side to side and, as they showed against France, they can take it up the middle as well. They have some powerful midfield runners. Their position in the table belies what they have brought to it. The Six Nations, if something goes wrong for you for 10 or 15 minutes, you can go right down the table. They will have learned from what happened against England and France. They have got good coaching staff who worked with our guys last June so the margins, as in all Test matches, will be very small.”