Healy and Zebo in contention to replace Fitzgerald

Joe Schmidt offers strong backing to Rob Kearney after tough outing in Pro12 final

Joe Schmidt made his first media appearance since March where he talked about Connacht's Pro 12 success along with his own frustrations about international management.

 

Simon Zebo and Matt Healy appear to be the leading contenders to replace the stricken Luke Fitzgerald tomorrow in the 32-man squad which departs for the tour to South Africa on Sunday.

Joe Schmidt will await a fitness update on the Munster fullback-cum-winger following his return to running this week after undergoing keyhole surgery on his knee, while also assessing the merits of the Connacht outside backs, notably Healy.

The uncapped Connacht winger, whom Schmidt cited as a left-footed left-winger à la Fitzgerald (although the same applies to Zebo), is bang in form with no issues over his fitness.

Although the Connacht outside trio maintained their rich vein of form by scoring tries in Connacht’s Guinness Pro12 final win over Leinster, the Ireland coach also maintained that the initial choice of outside backs was not based on reputation over form.

Reputation

“I don’t think the word reputation is applicable. I think performance is. A number of those guys [selected] have performed well at Test level,” said Schmidt at the Aviva Stadium yesterday for the announcement of the IRFU’s new four-year sponsorship deal with Vodafone Ireland, which is believed to be worth €15 million.

In particular, Schmidt made a staunch defence of Rob Kearney after what he admitted was a tough day for the Leinster and Irish fullback at Murrayfield. If anything, he said, Kearney needed games more than another rest after his injury problems since the turn of the year.

Incredibly keen

“He’s had a lot of breaks. I spoke to Rob. He’s incredibly keen to play. He needs to play more than he needs a break. He hasn’t played that often, whereas there are some guys for whom it’s been a pretty attritional season. I thought when Rob came back from injury against Edinburgh he was really good, and he was good the following week. Again he picked up a knock.

“I thought he was really good again when he got the opportunities. It was tough for him at the weekend. Certainly for the first try he had a two on one which was hard to solve, and Tiernan [O’Halloran] managed to get through on his shoulder but he [Kearney] was very much isolated at that stage with Jamie [Heaslip] being the second last defender. They’d got quite narrow and you can’t solve all those problems when you’re the last defender.

“So it was a tough day for Rob but I guess I’ve also seen Rob last time we played South Africa and I thought he was superb. And when the really big occasions have come up Rob has tended to play really well for us.

“It will be a bit of a litmus test for him and he knows that guys like Tiernan O’Halloran are snapping at his heels and he’ll put that pressure on himself and hopefully that will get the best out of him.”

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