O'Connell, Healy and Earls in struggle to be fit for Samoa clash
PAUL O'CONNELL, Cian Healy and Keith Earls are all doubtful for Ireland's opening November Test.
The trio will all sit out training this week as they continue their rehabilitation from a variety of injuries and will be assessed on Sunday night when the squad re-assemble in preparation for the game against Samoa on Saturday week.
Ireland team manager Mick Kearney gave a wry smile when he named the eight players on the injured list, no doubt experiencing a sense of deja vu, given how Ireland's 2013 Six Nations was wrecked by an unprecedented injury count.
As well as the aforementioned trio, Rory Best (ankle), Robbie Henshaw (hip flexor), Sean O'Brien (ankle), Declan Fitzpatrick (calf strain) and Mike Ross (hamstring) are all carrying injuries and did not take part in any training sessions yesterday.
Four players – Donncha O'Callaghan, Andrew Trimble, Martin Moore and Roger Wilson – have been called up to the squad for the week as precaution.
It is hoped that some of the injured will be available to train before the week is out, but there are real concerns over O'Connell and Earls.
"No-one has been ruled out at this stage, but it is concerning that some players won't be able to train at all this week," said Kearney.
"We're still very hopeful that Paul will be available for selection for the Samoa game, but it really is a question in seeing how he progresses during the week. We should know an awful lot better on Sunday evening."
O'Connell has a grade one calf strain, Earls is suffering from tendonitis of his patella (knee), while Healy has a knee cartilage injury.
O'Connell is obviously the biggest concern, given his importance to the side, although forwards coach John Plumtree does feel Ireland have the depth to cope without him should the worst come to pass.
"Paul is a specialist line-out operator with huge experience and (he is) a lovely individual, but the other guys are going well too," said Plumtree.
"We have options. Dan Tuohy, Devin Toner and Mike McCarthy are all good line-out jumpers, as are Peter (O'Mahony) and Jamie Heaslip.
"The line-out is not about just one person. I have been impressed with all the individuals."
Plumtree will soon discover that O'Connell's importance to the side goes much further than just his line-out capabilities.
The nightmare scenario for Ireland is that O'Connell misses the New Zealand game, because there is no-one capable of adequately replacing him and the presence he brings to the side.
Ireland certainly suffered for his loss last season and even allowing for their series win, the Lions also struggled to cope without him during the summer tour to Australia.
It is hoped that some of those injured will train before the week is out.
Best, for example, is expected to train today, but the uncertainty means that it will be Thursday at the earliest – but more likely next week – before a captain for the November Series will be named.
Meanwhile, Leinster have confirmed that Zane Kirchner will not play with them for another month after Friday's Pro12 clash against the Dragons.
Kirchner, who only made his debut for the province against Connacht last Saturday, will link up with the South African squad for their November matches immediately after the match at Rodney Parade.
Shane Jennings looks certain to feature against the Dragons after successfully returning from the broken bone in his hand against Connacht.
Without most of their Ireland internationals this weekend, Leinster are hopeful to have Lote Tuqiri back from his hamstring problems and report that Andrew Goodman could "also be in the frame" for his seasonal debut after a long spell on the sidelines.