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Negative victories and positive defeats: The difference between Ireland’s ’07 and present World Cup hopes

18 Aug

Sean Farrell

Rugby Correspondent

Now this is exciting! The past two weeks have seen Declan Kidney pick international teams for tricky away fixtures. The goal – despite Kidney’s protests – was to get those finely tuned motors up and running. A slow and sure warm up before we click into gear on these, the last two laps of our test run before New Zealand.

First up was the damp squib of a game against Scotland, do we expect anything more from a trip to Edinburgh? Much more heartening was last weekend’s jaunt to Bordeaux. Another loss, yes, but the performance was only a decent set-piece away from a win deep in French rugby country.

Yet, the admirable display did more than add impetus to the warm up series or give hope for the future. It helped to banish some aspects of our last trip to Stade Chaban Delmas (cue dramatic score from movie thriller – dun DUN dun) in 2007.

The warm up to that French debacle saw us wander into the lion’s den (good Christians that we are.) It was a hot and heavy midweek match in Bayonne, the Southwest outfit at that time were languishing in the second tier of France’s domestic competition and so, seemingly without fear of reproach, set about systematically lifting our ponderous World Cup bid off the railway tracks.

Reports differ on which carriage was targeted first, what is beyond doubt is that our engine, Brian O’Driscoll, was mercilessly targeted Super 8 style by substitute Mikeana Tewhata. The Kiwi played the part of the disgruntled truck driver four years before JJ Abrams unleashed his blockbuster on the masses.

Denis Hickie, who touched down three times as Ireland limped to a 42-6 win, could scarcely believe his eyes: “I thought those sort of games were a thing of the past.” The winger told the Belfast Telegraph at the time, “Brian got a blatant punch in the face from a guy he wasn’t even looking at which is pretty cowardly, but what can you do?”

Little over a week later, Italy came across to Belfast to wish us well in our going away party. They swamped in bold as brass, ate all the cake and swilled the free booze. They ruined the whole Friday night and made me do something I never did before or since during an Irish match, I switched off early.

It was as bad as Ireland have played in the modern era, on a par with the narrow win over Georgia just three weeks later. Like the 14-10 win by the Garonne, the match by the Lagan went down to the wire too.

Matteo Pratichetti’s converted try perilously close to the final whistle shot Italy into a 20 -16 lead. It was too late to cancel the flight to Bordeaux, I sighed and did what any self-respecting Irishman does when faced with crushing disappointment: grabbed my coat and headed to the pub.

By the time I looked both ways, crossed the road and moped through the door 60 meters from my own threshold, Donal the barman seemed in philosophic mood: “Terrible weren’t they” he said in an incomprehensibly upbeat mood. ‘Yeah, awful’ I lamented ‘first loss to Italy since…’ As he set me straight, Donal’s eyebrows raised higher than the pitch of his voice “No. They won. O’Gara scored a try!”

Disbelieving, I settled down to analyse the highlights before my pint of stout settled, ROG had done it again. Nowadays the ageing fly-half is forced to compete for his place but it’s not long since he was one of the three reliable totems which Ireland could always pin their hopes on.

This occasion, though, was not an example of his enduring class but more a big jammy stroke of luck. The talisman broke onto a questionable pass from Andrew Trimble and then grounded the score in less than convincing fashion. Long story short: Ireland won, just as they did in Bayonne; happy days, nothing to see here. Let’s just look forward to the World Cup, it’ll be alright on the night…

We hoped for the best but got more of the same. A shoddy display and a win against mighty Namibia led to us to being well and truly found out by Georgia who spent the dying minutes camped on our line and eventually trundled over only to be held up by Denis Leamy. Nobody was being fooled by the results anymore.

Ireland went on to Paris to be outclassed by the hosts and (needing a massive win to qualify) lost again to our favourite South Americans, who revelled in the kick and defend laden game-pattern of the day.

Results are not everything, far from it. The win in Bayonne was a physical pummelling, the narrow escape in Ravenhill a disaster. Compare these games to recent weeks when Kidney has sent understrength teams to hothouse atmospheres and got within inches of a win on both occasions.

The performances are there and the mood is good, that’s what has supporters excited. Because on Saturday we will see a green XV close to the one Kidney would choose to face Australia on September 17th.

The exception is Felix Jones, however much he merits a starting place, the Munster fullback still has a way to go to gain Kidney’s trust in a match of major stature. Elsewhere, the pack is in place – only Stephen Ferris could muscle in there. The half backs are building an understanding, Gordon D’Arcy is back in midfield and the back three is extremely dangerous despite the absence of Tommy Bowe who, once fit, should walk back into the right wing position.

All that said; the rallying cry from the sponsors of these warm up games must be heard. The build-up starts here and our boys in green must put more than half a game together against both France and England. Going into the World Cup under the radar is all well and good, but going on the back of four defeats could make for an impossible climb.

From Bayonne to the brink of something special, the prospect of victory, the chance of defeat; I guess that’s what makes it all so exciting.

Ireland (v France): F Jones, A Trimble, B O’Driscoll, G D’Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O’Leary; C Healy, R Best, M Ross, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt); S O’Brien, D Wallace, J Heaslip Replacements: J Flannery, T Court, M McCarthy, S Ferris, E Reddan, R O’Gara, L Fitzgerald.

Ireland XV (v Connacht) G Murphy; J Murphy, D Cave, I Keatley, F McFadden; P Wallace, I Boss; T Buckley, S Cronin, J Hayes;; M O’Driscoll, L Cullen; K McLaughlin, S Jennings, D Leamy. Replacements: D Varley, M Horan, D Ryan, N Ronan, C Murray, D Hurley, I Whitten

Six Nations post-mortem:What next for Ireland?

22 Mar

By Sean Farrell

“Trimble fly-hacks it. Easter dives on it, secures possession. But Ireland arrive in huge numbers, at pace, with power, in the right body positions and their appetite for this… well it looks like they haven’t eaten for months.”

Commentator Ryle Nugent pretty much caught the mood after 38 minutes of Saturday’s win over England.

The tournament ended in elation after preventing England’s Grand Slam and ensuring that nobody has won the Triple Crown since the Six Nations trophy also resided west of Holyhead.

So how do you rate Ireland’s campaign? We got there in the end? Lipstick on a pig?

A little of both probably, but it is worth remembering that Ireland only played two home games and in both of them they were outstanding, aside from the glut of penalties handed to Morgan Parra.
The common factor in those games was Jonny Sexton wearing the number 10 jersey. Ronan O’Gara was excellent whenever he took the field, particularly off the bench, but against England Sexton had the ‘wow’ factor.

He began with an audacious tap and go on his own 22. It seemed England had trickled back, but Sexton took the phrase ‘play what’s in front of you’ quite literally and spun the ball left.

Goal kicking can often be his Achilles heel, and after he nailed his second penalty of the day it was clear he was in the groove. Chris Ashton was eager to test his mettle but Leinster’s 10 scored with his next kick and was only narrowly wide from the attempt which followed Tommy Bowe’s try.
That was the only mark on young master Sexton’s copybook and it is more than forgivable considering his contribution to the touchdown itself.
As much as the try seemed a waterfall of momentum, finally breaking the white levee. It proved that Ireland have been sorely lacking a slice of luck or two throughout the Championship.

From the 22 metre drop out, Andrew Trimble seemed to knock on before Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell began their shock and awe attack, slide tackling their way into the red zone. On another day, O’Callaghan then could have been pinged for a high tackle as he caught Foden during his clearance.

On another day, that would have meant an English penalty on halfway, but it was not this day. Trimble unleashed Jamie Heaslip who relished the contact. Had this been Croke Park, the GAA brigade would be claiming Sexton’s quick tap penalty as a stylish solo run, his relatives in Kerry would be proud. Hell, Séamus Moynihan would have been proud of that one.

For Ireland, that moment will be the enduring memory of this championship. In one fell swoop the conservative option of an easy three points was given the coldest of shoulders and the St Mary’s man went for the kill.

A reasonable goal for Ireland and Declan Kidney is a world cup quarter final this year, the man himself would never admit as such but that is the base grade. Anything less will mean we’ve gone backwards in four years and will open the door for another dreaded set of Genesis reports and ‘root and branch’ reviews.

The awful performance in Cardiff last week, coupled with a historic Italian win, made us all shift uncomfortably. Ireland face Italy in the final world cup group game and the formbook suggests we’ll be battling it out for second place in Group C.

However, instead of looking behind us and worrying, there is a scenario that a rising Azzuri tide will simultaneously lift our own boats.

Throughout the Eddie O’Sullivan era and again this year, we have learned the hard way that facing Italy first up is always a stern (not to mention bruising) examination. If, for a change, the Azzuri can channel their pent up aggression into the Australian pack rather than our own, then perhaps we could make hay against the Wallabies seven days later.

Before the 2007 World Cup, Ireland came within a dodgy TMO decision of winning the Six Nations after hammering Italy 51 -24 on match day five. The nation had no reason to believe it could not lift the Webb Ellis trophy, but everything went wrong.

There will be some ghosts of ‘07 lurking around the camp between now and October. Not least a warm up game with France in the Stade Chaban Delmas where Georgia brought us to the brink. We also face a certain master tactician known as E O’Sullivan in our first group game.

Banish those ghosts and a first ever Semi-final could be the prize. However the hunger that Nugent spotted in Saturday’s first half cannot be allowed to wane. The numbers, pace, power and body positions will take care of themselves as long as the craving is within. Without it we are just four years older and four years fatter than the grief on the Garonne.

Lievremont makes five changes after goading English

5 Mar

France coach Marc Lievremont has continued his baffling selection policy after naming five changes in the team to play England at Twickenham Saturday.

France chiseled out a hard fought 22-25 victory over Ireland last time out. But despite Morgan Parra’s 100% kicking ratio in that game, Dimitri Yachvili, has been recalled to the scrum half position.

Parra provided 15 of les Bleus 25 points at Lansdowne road but his half back partner Francois Trinh-Duc must now adapt to playing with the more pragmatic Biarritz number 9.

Much of the headlines will surely be drawn by the inclusion of Sebastian Chabal. The Racing Metro forward, having played in the second row during the 2007 World Cup, has been handed a spot at open-side flanker in place of Julien Bonnaire.

Many felt that Chabal would be cut from the squad after his 78th minute looping pass almost allowed Ireland seize victory from the jaws of defeat. Fergus McFadden pounced on the loose ball to create the turnover, this in turn, set off a breathless backline move that ended just shy of the French five meter line.

That change will doubtless weaken the pack and the positional switch of Maxine Medarde to fullback could do likewise with the back three. Clement Poitrenaud will return to the bench, with Vincent Clerc coming onto his favoured left wing position in the reshuffle.

With 22 tries to his name, Clerc will always strengthen the side and inside him, Veteran centre Yannick Jauzion replaces Damien Traille as partner for Aurelien Rougerie in midfield.

With six tries to his name in just two games this campaign, England’s Chris Ashton is undoubtedly the man of the moment and France defensive coach Dave Ellis has hinted that he has a cunning plan to deal with Ashton at Twickenham.

“Ashton can be stopped. We used to stop Jason Robinson from scoring. You’ve just got to make sure that he doesn’t get the ball when he wants it.

“It’s not just about closing one man down. If you concentrate on doing that, then it only takes away your focus from elsewhere. Ashton is a finisher, just like Jason was, or Shaun Edwards and Ellery Hanley were in rugby league before them. It’s inbred in rugby league players.”

On that note Ellis widened his analysis from the wings to more general facets that will be needed in their game.

“First and foremost, you’ve got to stop giving England decent ball.

“Italy gave them far too much. They just let them play. They were allowed to play at their own tempo. We won’t let them do that.”

On Monday Lievremont attempted to stir up more ill feeling between the sides when he admitted:

“We don’t like them [the English] and it’s better to say that than be hypocritical. We respect them – well in my case at least I do. But you couldn’t say we have the slightest thing in common.”

The former flanker continued stating the obvious by hailing the perceived national traits of other countries involved in the Six Nations:

“We appreciate our Italian cousins with whom we share the same quality of life,” said Lievremont.

“We appreciate the Celts and their conviviality and then among all these nations we have one huge thing in common. We all don’t like the English.

“We beat Ireland yet left Dublin with the encouragement of all the Irish who said ‘for pity’s sake, beat the English’.

For Lievremont’s sake; Les Bleus need to overturn the chariot or else his words jibes will blow up in his face.

France team (v England): Maxime Medard, Yoann Huget, Aurelien Rougerie, Yannick Jauzion, Vincent Clerc, Francois Trinh-Duc, Dimitri Yachvili, Sebastien Chabal, Imanol Harinordoquy, Thierry Dusautoir (C), Lionel Nallet, Julien Pierre, Nicolas Mas, William Servat, Thomas Domingo.

Replacements : Guilhem Guirado, Sylvain Marconnet, Jerome Thion, Julien Bonnaire, Morgan Parra, Damien Traille, Clement Poitrenaud

Mixture of hardship and grace leads Kidney to just one change

9 Feb

By Sean Farrell

He’s back! The country’s most pre-eminent back-row Jamie Heaslip will once again fill Ireland’s number eight jersey when Lansdowne Road’s Aviva Stadium hosts France in it’s first Six Nations match.

Heaslip missed out on Ireland’s opening night jitters, a 13 -11 win over Italy in Rome, but has now recovered from his ankle injury in time to face the grand slam holders.

The Leinster stars inclusion means Denis Leamy is forced onto the bench as the island’s form forward, Sean O’Brien is switched to blindside flanker.

It was hoped that Ulster trio Stephen Ferris, Andrew Trimble and Tommy Bowe (now of Ospreys) could make a return from injury but it seems their next outing will be the trip to Edinburgh in over two weeks’ time.

If there is any surprise in the selection it is the retention of Tomas O’Leary at scrum half. The Munster man has struggled to find form this season, often finding himself below Peter Stringer in the provincial pecking order.

Eoin Reddan will hope to make as strong an impact off the bench as he did in Rome when whipping the ball to Ronan O’Gara to land the decisive drop goal.

If there was one major positive to take from that game, it was the absence of injuries. We have become used to the sight of bodies being carried from the field as Ireland slog out another win over Italy.

This time around, it is hoped that the spate of injuries have already hit before the tournament and Heaslip is the first of a trickle of stars returning to the fold.

It is this mixture of hardship and grace that has led, head coach, Declan Kidney to name just one change.

Ominously, France too have made only one enforced change, and although Damien Traille is not the force he once was at inside centre, it would be difficult to argue that the team is weaker than last week.

Maxime Mermoz dislocated his shoulder in the win over Scotland, opening the door for Clement Poitrenaud to reclaim his fullback jersey as Traille is moved into the three quarter line.

Perhaps the most unsettling aspect for Irish fans accustomed to heartbreak at the hands of the French is the name ‘Vincent Clerc’ which now appears on the replacements bench.

The Toulouse wing knows how to spoil a party when we introduce rugby to a new stadium, having scored the last gasp winning try the first time Croke Park was opened to the oval ball game.

Later that same year, he also hammered the nails in our 2007 World Cup coffin, touching down twice in the 25-3 defeat in Paris.

Though Marc LIeveremont has selected an impressive back three, Clerc is sure to play at least a quarter of the game. He is the only pacey option on a bench also containing Jannick Jauzion, Dimitri Yachvili and France’s most overrated enigma, Sebastian Chebal.

Up front, France are arguably at their most formidable, particularly when Irish scrums struggle to contend with teams like Australia, Wales and Scotland.

However, the sight of Mike Ross with a look of raw aggressive determination when defending his line in the second half against the Azzuri scrum is cause for optimism, as is the Clontarf man’s Heineken Cup form.

In that competition he has already come head to head with Thomas Domingo when Leinster met Clermont Auvergne and did more than hold his own.

Ireland: L Fitzgerald (Leinster); F McFadden (Leinster), B O’Driscoll (Leinster, capt), G D’Arcy (Leinster), K Earls (Munster); J Sexton (Leinster), T O’Leary (Leinster); C Healy (Leinster), R Best (Ulster), M Ross (Leinster), D O’Callaghan (Munster), P O’Connell (Munster), S O’Brien (Leinster), D Wallace (Munster), J Heaslip (Leinster).Replacements: S Cronin (Connacht), T Court (Ulster), L Cullen (Leinster), D Leamy (Munster), E Reddan (Leinster), R O’Gara (Munster), P Wallace (Ulster).

France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); Y Huget (Bayonne), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), D Traille (Biarritz), M Medard (Toulouse); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); T Domingo (Clermont Auvergne), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), J Pierre (Clermont Auvergne), L Nallet (Racing Metro), T Dusautoir (Toulouse, captain), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz). Replacements: G Guirado (Perpignan), L Ducalcon (Castres), J Thion (Biarritz), S Chabal (Racing Metro), D Yachvili (Biarritz), V Clerc (Toulouse), Y Jauzion (Toulouse).

Wales 19 – England 26

5 Feb

By Paul Walsh

England wing Chris Ashton got two try’s as England kicked off the Six Nations with a hard-fought win in a compelling if not high quality encounter in Cardiff. It was England’s first tournament win in Cardiff since 2003.

Ashton touched down either side of the break and man of the match Toby Flood and his replacement Jonny Wilkinson kicked the rest of their points. Toby Flood had the stand out performance for England. His kicking was excellent as was his break for Ashton’s first try. While the likes of Flood and Ashton impressed Tindall was poor for England particularly his passing.

Early Welsh pressure saw a nervy-looking England concede two penalties but neither Stephen Jones nor James Hook were able to make them count.

England gradually settled into their routine and quickly began exerting pressure on the Welsh scrum with their size advantage. Their first foray in to the Welsh 22 lead to a try.

Poor Welsh defence allowed Flood to burst into a gap and his pass to Ashton saw him go under the posts for the opening score on 15 minutes.

Flood converted to give England a 7-0 lead which soon became 10-0 when the Leicester fly-half punished Wales again after another infringement.

Wales hit back shortly afterwards when James Haskell conceded a needless penalty in front of the posts to give Jones and Wales a simple 3 points.

Further Welsh pressure resulted in England scrambling to get back in position and Louis Deacon committing a blatant offside which saw referee Alain Rolland send him to the sin bin.

Jones added a penalty to make it 10-6 but Wales were unable to score again with the advantage of the extra man.

It was actually England who scored next on 32 minutes, Flood put over his second penalty when Andy Powell was needlessly offside at the breakdown and England went in 13-6 at the break.

Wales struck first in the second half with a penalty but in a key turning point Welsh tighthead Craig Mitchell was sinbinned for killing the ball at a ruck.

Flood scored three points to make it 16-9 and soon afterwards England seemed to have won the game when Ashton scored his second try.

Wales’ got a try through Morgan Stoddart which nearly rescued a game they never deserved to be in. Wales had fought back from 23-9 down heading into the final quarter to go within four points of England at 23-19 with 10 minutes left before a late penalty from the ever reliable Wilkinson guided the English home.

Although England should have killed the game earlier than they did, they deserved to win. They face Italy at Twickenham next and who would bet against them coming to the Aviva stadium on the 19th of March with a chance to win the Six Nations. England are far from the finished article and their dominance of possession was not reflected on the scoreboard. Despite this an opening day victory away from home should create momentum for Johnson’s men.

Kidney able to name strong side to face Italy

3 Feb

By Sean Farrell

Declan Kidney has managed to name a strong starting 15 to open the Six Nations campaign in Italy despite a severely depleted list of options in certain positions.

A spate of injuries that could have proved crippling in previous years, now look like serving as an important stage in the development of Kidney’s side just seven months before the World Cup.

Last year’s Six Nations brought little other than disappointment. Concerns grew amongst the masses that the grand slam winning coach was falling into the same trap as his predecessor. Those fears grew in the autumn as the former Munster supremo stubbornly refused to throw form players into the starting XV, favouring the tried, the tested and the tired.

Fergus McFadden, who was a surprise omission from the original squad, will win his first cap on the right wing in Rome thanks to the harm caused to the hand of Andy Trimble and the knees of Geordan Murphy, Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan and Tommy Bowe.

With the above contingent missing in action, the fullback role has been a hot topic in recent weeks and Kidney has chosen Luke Fitzgerald over Connacht’s Gavin Duffy for the number 15 jersey.

Despite the Leinster wing’s indifferent form of late and his shortage of minutes in the position, it is the sensible call. Duffy (29) has 10 caps under his belt and has never been above average. Even in a comparatively tame Connacht backline he is far from being the star performer.

Fitzgerald, though still in rehabilitation towards his best form will add a spark, a touch of the unexpected. To his right, McFadden has some big shoes to fill in Bowe’s absence.

The Ospreys winger has picked up all manner of awards in the past year. He has been an ever present for Ireland but the Leinster tyro can take solace that he is in Bowe’s position, where many of Kidney’s favoured backline moves tend to wind up, but the pack must first get control of the ball.

With Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris ruled out, the back row could have been a worrying sight if it were not for Sean O’Brien’s incredible breakthrough this year. O’Brien has been picked to anchor the scrum in Heaslip’s absence. He is flanked by the other (fit) in-form forward, David Wallace and Denis Leamy.

In the front row, Mike Ross, who Kidney cut loose from Munster will get a long overdue start at tight head. With a scrum as bad as the Irish, Ross stands out week in week out for his province solidly locking every engagement and allowing everything behind him to flow.

Up against Italy in their first game of the year, the pack will always be asked questions, questions that will be repeated over and over again by the Azzuri whether you’ve got the answers or not. Ulster’s Rory Best has been chosen at hooker. His extra bulk and experience, not to mention consistent line-out darts, will be needed.

It’s not just front row’s that get picked on bulk, Eoin Reddan misses out on linking up with Jonny Sexton. The former Wasps scrumhalf is forced to wait in the wings as Tomas O’Leary is sent in to act as a ninth forward.

Perhaps if Munster did not settle for the consolation prize of an Amlin Cup spot then there would still be a debate over the fly-half position. Aside from the lower grades of the Magners league, Ronan O’Gara has played on the back foot all season. He has been the stand in captain for an ill disciplined side sliding from glory to what is hopefully just a brief respite to sharpen their claws.

Sexton meanwhile has been at the centre of Joe Schmidt’s rampant blues, his provincial captain Leo Cullen is joined on the bench by Shane Jennings, Leinster-bound Sean Cronin and Ulster utility back Paddy Wallace.

Ireland XV to face Italy: Luke Fitzgerald, Fergus McFadden, Brian O’Driscoll Capt, Gordon D’Arcy, Keith Earls, Jonathan Sexton, Tomas O’Leary
Cian Healy, Rory Best, Mike Ross, Donncha O’Callaghan, Paul O’Connell, Denis Leamy, David Wallace, Sean O’Brien

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Tom Court, Leo Cullen, Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan, Ronan O’Gara, Paddy Wallace

Ireland’s options at fullback stretched to limit

10 Jan

By Sean Farrell

Declan Kidney may be forced into playing Luke Fitzgerald at fullback throughout the Six Nations as Geordan Murphy and Rob Kearney, two of his frontliners for the number 15 jersey, are fighting against injury.

Murphy was stretchered off in the final minutes of Leicester Tigers’ 27-16 win over Northampton on Friday night. The Kildare native appeared to grab his right knee after desperately defending his try-line. But Tigers coach Richard Cockerill post match confirmed that the injury was to his captain’s ankle:

“He’s gone over on his ankle -We are hoping for the best but it’s too early to say the extent of his injury” Said Cockerill.

Rob Kearney meanwhile, is continuing his rehabilitation and hopes to be fit for the after suffering a knee injury against New Zealand. But Leinster coach Joe Schmidt remained cautious about issuing a return date for Kearney, telling the Sun:

“I am not sure if he will make the Six Nations, we’ll have to wait and see, but I can tell you he’s making really good progress,”

With the rule changes enforced over the past 12 months, a kicking and catching fullback like Kearney, has become a less valuable commodity. The need for a custodian with more subtle ball skills and the ability to pick clever lines ensured Murphy, 32, was moved back up the pecking order.

Rumours emerging today suggest that the Leicester captain has dislocated the right ankle, an injury which would keep him out for the entire Six Nations campaign and possibly the rest of the season.

In 2003, the Newbridge College man suffered injury heartbreak, breaking his leg in a World Cup warm up against Scotland. Girvan Dempsey filled the jersey with distinction in that tournament and Murphy struggled to displace him from then on. If injury were to rob him of a second world cup then it would be a tragedy for one of the men who moulded the rejuvenation of Irish rugby.

Should Kidney also be deprived of Kearney then Fitzgerald will be first choice having stated that fullback is his favoured position. However, after an injury ravaged year of his own, Ireland will need a plan B for the Blackrock College man.

Kidney will no doubt have his own inimitable back up plans but some options for Fitzgerald’s understudy are: Keith Earls, who along with Fitzgerald is one of the most exciting talents on the island. The Limerick man can play adeptly anywhere in the backline but has found his home at outside centre with Munster.

Another centre, Gordon D’Arcy played fullback in his schooldays with Clongowes Wood and in the early part of his career was a utility back until Eddie O’Sullivan found his best position alongside Brian O’Driscoll.

Johne Murphy, a natural winger and the former Leicester teammate of Geordan Murphy he often deputises with good effect at fullback. In terms of a specialist fullback Kidney may revert to Connacht’s Gavin Duffy. The 29 year old has 10 caps and is an accomplished footballer, but is also out with a knee injury at present and his absence could pave the way for teammates Ian Keatley (converted from fly-half to full back) or Cillian Willis (wing) to earn a place in the squad.