Earls out of Ireland tour
Ireland's hopes of securing an historic first victory over the All Blacks suffered yet another blow today when Keith Earls withdrew from the tour to New Zealand and Australia.
Earls joins the long list of Irish casualties after being forced to concede defeat in his struggle against a persistent groin injury, with Gavin Duffy of Connacht taking his place in the squad.
The 22-year-old Lion is the fourth player over the last seven days to see his tour aspirations dashed before even boarding the plane for New Zealand, which departs tomorrow.
Paul O'Connell, Rory Best and Kevin McLaughlin had already withdrawn while Test regulars Stephen Ferris, Denis Leamy and Luke Fitzgerald did not make it into the original 33-man squad named last month because of injury problems.
A statement released by the Irish Rugby Football Union read: "Earls has been suffering from a persistent groin injury.
"Following his participation in the training camp in Limerick this week, he has been ruled out of the tour."
Ireland have never beaten the All Blacks in 22 attempts and their chances of breaking that duck have receded with the news over Earls.
The Munster threequarter has emerged this season as one of Ireland's main gamebreakers and has scored six tries in 10 Tests.
Earls has played the majority of his Test rugby on the wing, but can cover full-back and outside centre where he is regarded as the eventual successor to Brian O'Driscoll.
Though not originally selected to tour, Earls' replacement Duff starts at outside centre against the Barbarians at Thomond Park tomorrow night.
Ronan O'Gara leads Ireland in the absence of Brian O'Driscoll, who is being rested, in a warm-up match for summer tour.
Lining up against O'Gara will be combative Munster team-mate Alan Quinlan, the blindside flanker overlooked by Ireland but selected by the Barbarians.
"I was talking to Brian O'Driscoll coming home from training and I told him that I think we'll see the real Quinny this weekend," said O'Gara.
"It's my first time ever playing against him - usually at training for the last 13 years we've been on the same side.
"I'm closest to Alan of all the players. I have a great relationship with him and he has a heart of gold - but he can torment people.
"He'll torment you all right. That's the way he plays and he's very effective.
"He's a great character - he'll be missed - but there is plenty of rugby left him in yet.
"He's very ambitious. I think he's disappointed not to be going on the Irish tour, so I think he has a point to prove as well.
"It will be interesting to see what way the crowd go because I'm sure there will be a lot of Quinny fans there. We need a few of them cheering us on."