PAUL O'CONNELL will not travel with the Irish squad to New Zealand after the second row was deemed not fit enough to play.
O’Connell had been undergoing rehabilitation on a knee injury in London with a view to joining the tour in New Zealand but the injury had not progressed to a level that allowed him to have an active role on the tour.
He picked up the injury against Ulster in a Pro12 victory over Ulster a month ago. O’Connell is added to a list that includes Stephen Ferris, Isaac Boss and Tommy Bowe as those who will be missing in action in New Zealand.
The loss of such a talisman in the forwards will no doubt represent a severe set-back to an Irish squad seeking to claim their first ever win over New Zealand.
It will also mean that O’Connell like so many before him will have completed his entire International career without winning on New Zealand soil as Ireland are unlikely to tour there for at least another few years.
O’ Connell’s injury opens the door for Dan Tuohy of Ulster. With Donnacha Ryan likely to start, the battle for the other spot is set to be a shootout between Donncha O’Callaghan and Tuohy.
Tuohy is undoubtedly in better form of the two but Kidney has exhibited a tendency in the past to pick the more experienced players for the big games.
Mike McCarthy from Connaught will also provide cover at second row.
Mike Ross remains a big fitness doubt after he went off injured with a tweaked hamstring in the first half of Leinster’s Pro12 final defeat to Ospreys.
The fitness of Ross is perhaps the issue giving Kidney the most trouble, considering his vital role in the scrum. Ireland’s scrum capitulated against England without Ross in their final Six Nations game.
Uncapped Connacht duo Brett Wilkinson and Ronan Loughrey are the other options at tight-head, although neither will have experienced anything like the pressure the All-Blacks will exert.
The Irish squad was due to arrive in Auckland this morning with their first test in the city a week from today.
IRELAND SQUAD (v New Zealand) Backs (13): D Cave, G D’Arcy, K Earls, R Kearney, P Marshall, F McFadden, C Murray, B O’Driscoll (capt), R O’Gara, E Reddan, J Sexton, A Trimble, S Zebo. Forwards (17): R Best, S Cronin, D Fitzpatrick, C Healy, J Heaslip, C Henry, R Loughney, K McLaughlin, M McCarthy, S O’Brien, D O’Callaghan, P O’Mahony, M Ross, D Ryan, M Sherry, D Tuohy, B Wilkinson.