Monday 23 April 2018

Ireland eye fresh start as Earls concerns ease

Keith Earls should be available for selection against France next weekend
Keith Earls should be available for selection against France next weekend


Ireland coach Declan Kidney has confirmed that Keith Earls should be available for selection against France next weekend having pulled out of today's game against Wales because of an illness to his new-born daughter.

"It's all good," Kidney said yesterday. "I'd imagine he'll be in again next week. Things are on the up all right. The baby is recovering well so we wish him well and hope that he can have a few quiet moments to just get through that first week."

Earls had been in Limerick all week so it afforded his replacement, Fergus McFadden, time to slot into the position.

"It's just a mindset really for Fergus, to get his around the fact that he's starting now instead of being on the bench," Kidney said. "You're always delighted to get that type of call rather than anything else. It hasn't affected training at all really."

Effectively, McFadden is Kidney's third choice in the position given that Brian O'Driscoll is out for the tournament, but much of the focus for today's game has surrounded the problems Wales have had in coping with injuries.

They will be missing four of the pack that gave Ireland such a hard time in last October's World Cup quarter-final, as well as wing Shane Williams who has retired from Test rugby.

Given that outhalf Rhys Priestland and centre Jamie Roberts were passed fit on Friday, however, it could be worse for Warren Gatland, who is hoping to lead Wales to their first hat-trick of wins over Ireland since the 1970s.

Rob Kearney, whose uncapped brother David was added to the squad when Earls withdrew, will be playing his first Six Nations game at the new Lansdowne Road and he said that the World Cup defeat by Wales was behind them.

"It's a new campaign and a new beginning," he said. "Everything has changed, but we're more aware we want to win the Six Nations and to do that you want to win all your games.

"If we lose this game then there goes another potential tournament victory. I think everyone will be trying their best to make sure that doesn't happen twice in a row."

Captain Paul O'Connell, meanwhile, is relieved that there were no new areas of concern with referees ahead of his first tournament leading the side.

"There's nothing worse than coming into camp and having to prepare for some new directive where you just don't know which way it's going to go with referees," he said.

"It's good to come in and know that it's more of the same. Obviously there would have been a meeting at the start where they would have highlighted the stuff they'll be looking at but it's the same stuff they've been looking at -- the same as we had in the Heineken Cup and the World Cup, and it makes it easier to prepare."

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