Confirmation that Jamison Gibson-Park and Cian Healy have been ruled out of consideration for next Saturday’s crunch Six Nations match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium (kick-off 2.15pm) hardly comes as a surprise given rumours both players had been sidelined on the morning of the Welsh game with hamstring injuries.
An IRFU statement has confirmed that both players did indeed suffer hamstring injuries, and furthermore, despite moderately optimistic noises from Andy Farrell last Thursday when Tadhg Furlong was ruled out of Ireland’s opening 34-10 win over Wales that he might recover from his calf strain, the Lions’ tight head has also been ruled out of the clash between the world’s top two ranked sides.
Therefore Conor Murray will almost certainly again start at scrum-half, with Craig Casey on the bench, while Finlay Bealham will remain at tight-head, with David Kilcoyne and Tom O’Toole the prop replacements.
There were call-ups for the Connacht scrum-half Caolin Blade and Leinster loose-head prop Michael Milne to join the Ireland squad when they assembled on Monday at the IRFU High Performance Centre in Dublin. This confirms Blade’s status as the fourth scrum-half in the pecking order.
Roman Salanoa and Tom Stewart, who both joined the squad last week, have been retained as the long-term investment in them continues.
Irish captain Johnny Sexton completed the HIA process on Monday, while Ronan Kelleher is due to return to training this week. Kelleher, who has been bedevilled by injuries since last playing for Ireland in the corresponding round two game in Paris last year, had been ruled out of consideration for the Welsh game.
When the team hit the ground running in that opening half-hour in Cardiff, like Gibson-Park and Healy, Kelleher was also sidelined with a hamstring injury evidently picked up in training, and to have this happen to three players inside a week is somewhat curious and more than a tad disconcerting.
France are expected to remain largely unchanged from the side which were given a scare by Italy in the Stadio Olimpico last Sunday, although the debate continues to rage as to whether Tomas Ramos will be retained at full-back after missing five points off the ‘t’, or whether the longer kicking game of his Toulouse teammate Melvyn Jaminet will be restored.
Fabien Galthié and his French squad, who will remain in Rome to continue preparations for Saturday’s game before travelling to Dublin on Thursday, admitted his side’s performance overall when beating Italy 29-24 was mixed, but maintained that winning was the most important thing. “Collectively we have the ambition to evolve. The game also requires fouls. We have the right not to be at the top every day.”
The widespread feeling around the French camp is that they put in a considerable amount of physical work during their fortnight in Capbreton in the southwest of France before travelling to Rome last Saturday.
“The work done over the 15 days of preparation should allow us to be ready for the first test in Italy and for the rebound, a few days later, in Dublin.,” said Galthié. “We will see on Saturday, at the Aviva, whether we succeeded or not.”
The defence coach, Shaun Edwards, appeared baffled by the concession of 18 penalties, several of which were at defensive rucks and a few more for offside. “I have been in the game for 20 years and that’s the most penalties I’ve had against us in defence. We will have to go through it in detail with the referees. I’ve not had a defence penalised so much.”
Antoine Dupont, who again completed 80 minutes for the 13th time in 15 starts for Toulouse or France this season, was asked about the task facing Les Bleus against a side that has won 12 matches since losing to France exactly two years ago. “Just saying that is enough to set the context. This team is very much in place, sure of its strengths, it attacked the tournament in the best possible way, coming out of the matches more than mastered. We know where we are stepping. We will have to raise our level in all sectors. But they are good games to play.”