Sean O’Brien became the latest back row worry for Declan Kidney when he took a bang on the knee at training that could rule him out of the US game which opens Ireland’s World Cup programme on 11 September.
I understand O’Brien suffered enough knee ligament damage to put him out for possibly three weeks, which would take him up to the game against the Eagles in New Plymouth. With David Wallace getting his first action of any sort on Saturday, and Stephen Ferris making his first run-on start after successfully coming off the bench against France last weekend, the back row has become a fairly fragile area. That leaves Jamie Heaslip and Denis Leamy as the only two there who are fit and up to speed.
The main point of interest in Saturday’s selection sees Ronan O’Gara start with Eoin Reddan. This is made for O’Gara: Ireland backed into a corner with England blocking their path. Both sides badly need a win to float their boats before they set sail for NZ. Rather, Ireland are desperate for a result.
There were two maddening aspects to the defeat last weekend: first was passing up a handy three points when we were already three up and all over France, giving the impression that this wasn’t a win at all costs game, and it should have been; the second is the notion that Ireland were keeping their powder dry.
The last time I heard that line was in the early stages of the pool in 2007 when we were breaking out in a rash trying to beat Namibia and Georgia. It is ludicrous to stuff your sleeves full of tricks thinking you can shake them free at a moment’s notice, whereupon you expect them to work first time? So either Ireland have a raft of clever moves that may never get off the drawing board, or else we’re simply off the pace.
Speaking of which, both Geordan Murphy and especially Tommy Bowe will struggle to get up to speed on Saturday. They will be in the back three with Andrew Trimble, and Keith Earls will wear Brian O’Driscoll’s jersey. The team will be captained by Paul O’Connell in the absence of O’Driscoll, who it seems is being rested so he can play the US and Australia games back to back. After three runs off the bench Jerry Flannery will make his first start for Ireland in 18 months.
Probable Ireland team v England: G Murphy; T Bowe, K Earls, G D’Arcy, A Trimble; R O’Gara, E Reddan; C Healy, J Flannery, M Ross, D O’Callaghan, P O’Connell (capt), S Ferris, J Heaslip, D Wallace