NEWS THAT IRELAND captain Brian O’Driscoll and hooker Rory Best will miss the Guinness Series against South Africa and Argentina next month was the last thing that under pressure coach Declan Kidney needed.
South Africa, the number three side in world rugby, arrive in Ireland next Monday with a mission to avenge their 2009 Croke Park defeat top of the agenda.
Ireland will line out in their first game against the Springboks on 10 November since that fog-ridden day with a win by any means a necessity.
Having conceded nine tries without recording a single point in their 60-0 mauling by the All Blacks, many Irish supporters will have targeted three wins from three international outings as suitable penance.
Kidney, however, has to plan for Ireland’s matches without four of his totems. A thankless task.
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With Rob Kearney out until late December at the earliest and Gavin Duffy not featuring for Connacht in recent weeks due to a knee injury, the Number 15 cupboard looks bare. Ian Madigan has been in fine form for a stop-start Leinster in recent weeks but there has been no call-up despite endorsements from his club captain and coach. Felix Jones is Ireland’s best bet here but a fragile one at that.
Kidney has the option of going with an Ulsterman to plug the gap but would prefer to keep Tommy Bowe on the right wing – given the weakness of that position during the summer – and he has yet to show any faith in Darren Cave, who has been in good form for the past 8 months. Keith Earls is a wing and fullback option but has his heart set on the 13 jersey – that is where he should be selected to face the Springboks.
Given the fact that Earls should be moving from this position to cover one of the central positions, the left flank looks set to be up for grabs. Simon Zebo has started the season in excellent form – witness his try against Racing Metro – but got dropped out of sight after his debut in the Eden Park defeat by New Zealand. Fergus McFadden played at 11 for Leinster in their 59-22 victory over Cardiff Blues, looked very good and will not be facing Julian Savea or Hosea Gear this time.
Conor Murray was the man in possession for Ireland on the tour to New Zealand and came of age in the narrow Second Test defeat in Christchurch. He regressed a week later at Waikato Stadium, like most of his teammates, and has put in mixed performances this season. A series of howlers against Racing Metro was followed with a man-of-the-match showing against Edinburgh.
Eoin Reddan (right) outplayed Conor Murray at the Aviva. (©INPHO/James Crombie)
As a late call-up to the squad Paul Marshall is getting little credit from Kidney for Ulster’s stunning start to the season. The man to lead the way must be Eoin Reddan who outshone Murray emphatically at the Aviva earlier this month.
Sean O’Brien will return by the end of the year if his luck improves but Peter O’Mahony could be difficult to shift from the green jersey at that stage. The Munster man has been in top form for his province this season but mostly at blindside and Number 8. Shane Jennings has been one of Leinster’s best forwards this season but Chris Henry, who has led Ulster magnificently twice this season, would be understandably aggrieved if O’Mahony pips him to the post.
It looked likely that Richardt Strauss would be eased into international life – if such a thing is possible – with an appearance against his home country [South Africa] off the bench. The injury to Best means it will be the 26-year-old starting with his Leinster colleague Sean Cronin as back up. His ability to carry the ball forward in what his club coach Joe Schmidt describes as ‘pinball machines’ and his try-scoring threat means this is one position where Ireland should not be hamstrung too much.