Irish boss counting on injured O’Connell and ageing Hayes to prop up tour hopes
IRELAND coach Declan Kidney is gambling on talismanic second-row Paul O'Connell regaining his fitness for next month's tour to New Zealand and Australia.
Kidney yesterday included O'Connell in his 33-man squad for the four-match assignment that sees Ireland take on the Barbarians, All Blacks, Maoris and Wallabies on successive weekends.
The Munster captain has been battling a groin injury that has put him out of action since Ireland's Six Nations defeat to Scotland on March 20 and Kidney concedes that he remains a doubt for the forthcoming Tests.
"You try and give every player, every chance to play, especially someone of Paul's calibre," said Kidney. "He hasn't been ruled out yet which is why he's been named. There's a week or two before we travel so we'll give him every chance we can."
O'Connell's presence in the squad would be a significant boost and a statement of intent ahead of taking on New Zealand and Australia, the top and third-ranked nations in world rugby. However, a shoulder injury means his Leinster counterpart Leo Cullen has been ruled out of the arduous expedition and raises doubts about his availability for the province's Magners League final showdown against the Ospreys on Saturday week.
"Leo isn't up to the rigours of a tour, he's seeing a specialist at the moment and tying down the best way to be looked after in terms of playing again between now and the of the season. But, certainly in terms of a four-match tour, we would know that he's not up the rigours of it."
Veteran prop John Hayes was included in the travelling party when it was speculated that the 36-year-old might be given the summer off which means Mike Ross fails to make the party after struggling to get a regular starting place ahead of Leinster's overseas duo of CJ van der Linde and Stan Wright this season.
It is a squad packed with experience based around the players who picked up a Grand Slam and went through 2009 unbeaten with just three uncapped players included -- Ulster duo Dan Tuohy and Chris Henry and Fergus McFadden from Leinster.