Under-20s have to make major changes for France


SPORTS DIGEST:RUGBY: Ireland under-20s coach Mike Ruddock has been forced into major surgery ahead of the visit of France to Athlone tomorrow night (live RTÉ Two, kick-off 7.45pm) as seven players who featured in the 28-9 dismantling of Italy last Friday are unavailable, writes Gavin Cummiskey.

Connacht’s Eoin McKeon (hamstring), prop Martin Moore (A/C joint) and lock Michael Kearney (concussion/facial laceration) have been ruled out, although all three could return for the Scottish game in Inverness on February 25th.

Lansdowne’s David Heffernan comes into the backrow, with Jordi Murphy switching to number eight, Conor Carey is promoted to tighthead, while secondrow David O’Mahony is the only starting Munster man.

Ulster have called up centre Luke Marshall and winger Craig Gilroy for their game at Ospreys on Sunday, while Leinster have selected centre Brendan Macken and winger Andrew Conway for tonight’s meeting with Aironi . This means Michael Sherlock starts at fullback, Coventry’s Nathaniel McDonald is in midfield and Tieran O’Halloran returns on the wing.

IRELAND U20s: M Sherlock (Leinster); T O’Halloran (Connacht), A Kelly (Leinster), N McDonald (Coventry), A Boyle (Leinster); P Jackson (Ulster), B McIlroy (Ulster); J Tracy (Leinster), N Annett (capt, Ulster), C Carey ( Ulster); D O’Mahony (Munster), D Qualter (Connacht); D Heffernan (Connacht), A Conneely (Connacht), J Murphy (Leinster). Replacements: D Doyle (Leinster), F Bealham (Ulster), I Henderson (Ulster), S Buckley (Munster), P Du Toit (Leinster), J McKinney (Ulster), JJ Hanrahan (Munster).

Clijsters roars back in Paris

TENNIS: Kim Clijsters lost the first set but roared back to beat Germany’s Kristina Barrois 4-6 6-2 6-0 in the second round of the Paris Open last night.

The Belgian, who won the Australian Open last month, can take the number one spot from the absent Caroline Wozniacki if she reaches the semi-finals at Stade Coubertin – just a short walk from Paris’s more famous tennis venue, Roland Garros.

After losing the first four games against world number 78 Barrois on the hardcourt, the top seed’s hopes of such success looked bleak with her serve erratic and forehand often long.

Clijsters pulled herself out of the rut by reeling off a string of winners but a drive volley into the net cost her the first set.

Barrois continued to trouble her more illustrious opponent with a cunning sliced backhand but her confidence gradually drained as Clijsters upped the tempo and lifted the crowd out of their early shock.

Ricco’s team threaten sack

CYCLING: Riccardo Ricco’s Vacansoleil team threatened to sack the Italian cyclist, still seriously ill in hospital, yesterday if allegations he performed his own blood transfusion are correct.

“The team has a zero-tolerance policy concerning drug use. All riders and staff who violate the internal and UCI doping rules are fired on the spot. The team has now started an investigation of the facts,” a statement from the team said.

Banned Butt signs up as pundit

CRICKET: Pakistan’s banned former Test captain Salman Butt has signed a contract with a Pakistani television channel to appear as an expert for them during the World Cup.

“I got a good offer and since I am doing nothing I thought this would allow me to test a new area in cricket,” Butt said.

The Channel 5 network said it had no issues signing up Butt because of his cricketing background.

“We have signed him up purely as a cricket expert,” a spokesman for the channel said.

Butt was banned for 10 years, with five suspended, by the International Cricket Council (ICC) anti-corruption tribunal last week after a hearing in Doha.

He still retains the right to appeal in the international court of arbitration for sports against the ban for his involvement in spot-fixing. The former opener is also facing criminal charges of accepting bribe and fraud.

Ankrom new high performance head

ATHLETICS: Kevin Ankrom has been appointed the new high performance director for Athletics Ireland, beginning in April, writes Ian O’Riordan.

The American is an unexpected choice, but has considerable high performance experience over the last 15 years, most recently as high performance director of Athletics New Zealand.

Before that Ankrom worked in Hong Kong, Bahrain, and his native America, in various university coaching positions. He is now charged with overseeing the preparations of Ireland’s elite athletes in the run-up to next year’s London Olympics, in what is an amalgamated position of former high performance manager and director of athletics – both of which had been vacant. Ankrom, a former high jumper, will live in Ireland full-time during the course of his appointment, with the initial contract taking him up to 2014.