IRELAND are confident tight-head prop Mike Ross will be fit to play in the second Test against the All Blacks in Christchurch next week and said, mindful that they are facing into a three-Test series, were not prepared to risk his hamstring injury on Saturday.
Ulster’s Declan Fitzpatrick will win his first cap in place of Ross in the first Test in Eden Park but although it is a massive examination for a player who has started only seven Heineken Cup games, Ireland team manager Mick Kearney said it was the sensible course of action to take.
“Mike trained this morning and before we went out we were quite optimistic that he would come through the session,” said Kearney after this afternoon’s team announcement in the Ireland team hotel in Takepuna, north Auckland.
“He did the warm-up fine but when we went into team manoeuvres he just felt a bit of a twinge. The physios took him off and examined him and just felt it was more prudent to actually leave him off.”
“Obviously he’s not right for next week. Hamstrings, by nature, can take a while and you don’t really know when they’re going to be right, but I think we would be optimistic about next week. There was no more damage done. It will just probably take an extra two or three days’ rest.”
New Zealand coach Steve Hansen said the world champions are wary of the Irish after seeing what they did to Tri-Nations champions Australia at Eden Park last year.
“We saw in their last performance at Eden Park, against Australia, that they are capable of putting top performances together,” said Hansen. “Clearly Australia may have under-estimated Scotland when they lost to them this week. We can't fall into that trap. We've got to hit the ground running and running hard,” he said.
Ireland transferred to a city centre base in Auckland’s Central Business District this afternoon and both teams have a Captain’s Run scheduled for tomorrow ahead of Saturday night’s 7.35 kick-off (8.35am, Irish time).