Smal 'fit' for New Zealand trip
GERT SMAL is expected to be part of the Ireland coaching team for next month's tour of New Zealand.
The South African forwards coach was forced to withdraw from the Six Nations after the first match against Wales when illness seriously affected his eyesight, with Munster's Anthony Foley filling in for the remainder of the championship.
It was feared that Smal would not be recovered sufficiently to make the journey for the three-Test series against the world champions in June, with Foley ready to fill again. The IRFU said at the start of April that they were "optimistic" of the 50-year-old being ready in time, and that optimism is believed to have firmed into confidence, with Smal understood to have made an excellent recovery.
Ireland face a warm-up match against the Barbarians in Gloucester on May 29, and this weekend's RaboDirect Pro12 semi-finals involving Munster and Leinster will have a significant bearing on the squad selected for that encounter.
If both provinces progress to the Pro12 final on May 26, the squad for Gloucester is likely tobe made up mainly of Connacht and Ulster players, many of whom will not travel to New Zealand.
Ireland are expected to announce their squad for New Zealand early in the week following the Heineken Cup final between Leinster and Ulster on May 19. There has been no indication as to how large a party Declan Kidney will bring, but it is understood the Ireland coach will not bring less than 28 and the squad may contain as many as 30.
This creates the possibility of several uncapped players travelling, with the likes of Brett Wilkinson, Ronan Loughney, Nevin Spence and Declan Fitzpatrick all known to have been in Carton House at a get-together last week.
NIGEL OWENS will referee the Heineken Cup final between Leinster and Ulster in Twickenham on May 19, the third time he will have taken charge of the European decider.