Staples returns to lead Ireland against Wales


IRELAND'S performance against France at Lansdowne Road last Saturday week may not have brought victory, but it is a measure of the relative satisfaction of the selectors that they have made just two changes in choosing the side to meet Wales in Cardiff next Saturday. And one of those alternations is enforced, because of the unavailability of hooker Keith Wood.

Not alone is there a recall for Jim Staples at full back, but he is also named as captain of the side. He last led Ireland against France in the Five Nations Championship last season. He comes in for Conor O'Shea, while Wood's place at hooker goes to Allen Clarke, who came on as a replacement for Wood in the first half of the match against France and won his fifth cap.

But there is a considerable doubt about Clarke's fitness because of a hand injury sustained last Saturday playing for Northampton against Coventry in an English Cup tie. There is also some anxiety about the fitness of out half Eric Elwood, who is troubled by a nagging hamstring which caused him discomfort playing for Lansdowne last Saturday.

Clarke had an X ray on the injury which revealed that he had cracked a metacarpal and the posit ion about his fitness will be more clearcut today when he joins the Ireland squad in Limerick for four days of training.

"We will have a much better idea about his fitness when he reports with the squad and the injury can be examined," said Ireland manager Pat Whelan when he announced the side yesterday morning. Whelan said he may be in a position to make a definite announcement about Clarke today.

If Clarke is ruled out then his place will go to Ross Nesdale (Newcastle), a 27 year old New Zealander who came on as a replacement for Ireland A against France A last Friday week and who £5 qualified to play far Ireland through his paternal grandfather.

Elwood was concerned yesterday about what he described as "a nagging hamstring", which troubled him in Lansdowne's All Ireland League match against Cork Constitution last Saturday "I did not feel comfortable, especially in the closing stages of the match," he said.

The Wales coach, Kevin Bowring, watched his centre, Allan Bateman, carried off with a twisted right knee after an hour when he was trapped under a ruck on the touchline by the Athletic Ground's main stand during Richmond's English League, Division Two win over Bedford.

Bateman, whose partnership with Scott Gibbs was so vital in Wales's win at Murrayfield, was due to have a scan on his knee, but he looks doubtful for the game against Ireland.

Scott Quinnell gave Wales an injury scare in the same league game. The powerful back row forward limped off at half time with a toe injury, but believes he will be fit to face Ireland in Cardiff.

He said: `I was carrying an inflamed toe injury into the game and I could only see it through until half time before the pain was too great.

"I intend to have two days' rest before joining up with Wales and I am confident that I will be playing for Wales next weekend."

Quinnell admitted that Richmond were fortunate to take all the points with the 34-33 success.

He said: "I was really impressed by our first half performance. However, after the break Bedford played really well and we missed too many tackles. In the end I thought we were lucky to escape with a win."

Referee Scott Young is optimistic that he will be fit to handle the match at Cardiff Arms Park next Saturday.

Australian official Young was forced off just 12 minutes into yesterday's SWALEC Cup sixth round clash between Newport and Cardiff.

"I will see an orthopedic surgeon tomorrow morning and probably have a scan on my knee. It is a question of getting it looked at," he said yesterday.

"But they will have to drag me away kicking and screaming from Cardiff next Saturday. It is the pinnacle of my career.