They say one man’s pain often equals another’s gain and Stephen Ferris knows a fair bit about both sides of that particular equation.
Ferris wears the number six jersey against England in tomorrow afternoon’s Guinness Series Test at the Aviva Stadium (2.30pm) with a knee injury — how ironic is that? — having ruled out European Player of the Year, Sean O’Brien.
A big performance by the Ulster blindside would leave Ireland coach Declan Kidney facing a huge decision given that he expects O’Brien to be fit for Ireland’s World Cup opener against the USA in little over two weeks.
Announcing the team to face England, Kidney’s take on O’Brien was: “The prognosis is that he should be available for the American match.”
Highlighting the fact that O’Brien had been able to continue against France — and indeed score a last-ditch try — despite having picked up his injury in the 55th minute, Kidney quipped: “Injured but scoring tries; you’d settle for that, wouldn’t you?”
With O’Brien missing, Ferris making his first start since January 22 and fellow-flanker David Wallace getting his first taste of 2011/12 action, Kidney’s answer to concerns about his stretched back row resources was: “Steve Ferris could move across to seven, or Denis Leamy could come into seven and Donnacha Ryan can go to six, so we’d have a number of options there.”
He added: “In tournament football you’re always going to end up in this situation anyway whereby, because you only have 30 players, it’s not like Six Nations where you go outside and you bring in the next guy.
“What we have to do is get used to working with the 30, particularly when we’re round the other side of the world.”
Paul O’Connell — captain in the absence of the injured Brian O’Driscoll, out with a shoulder knock — admitted that those starting for the first time are likely to suffer.
Having made his first start of the campaign last week, he warned: “No matter how fit you are you still feel bad in that first game back.”
And looking ahead to tomorrow’s challenge O’Connell said: “One thing you’re guaranteed against England is physicality every time, so for us this is a great match to finish on.”
While Kidney agreed that England will be physical, he is expecting them to offer rather more than mere aggression.
“They’re not just going to tuck the ball up under their jumper. They’ll have enough variations in it with Jonny Wilkinson back in at out-half and Toby Flood to come in as well,” he warned.
Kidney has made a total of seven personnel changes and two positional switches to the side beaten 26-22 by France last weekend. Tommy Bowe, like Wallace, gets his first taste of action 2011/12-style.
With Kearney injured, Geordan Murphy comes in for his 70th cap, while O’Driscoll’s place at 13 goes to Keith Earls who lined out on the left wing last week. Bowe’s return at 14 sees Andrew Trimble switch to 11.
Eoin Reddan and Ronan O’Gara start at nine and 10 respectively, with Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray providing cover.
Cian Healy and Mike Ross continue at one and three, with fit-again Jerry Flannery starting between them.
Locks Donncha O’Callaghan and Paul O’Connell are retained as a pair for the 40th time, with No. 8 Jamie Heaslip also continuing.
Either side of him, meantime, it is up to fresh men Ferris and Wallace to prove that they will be ready when Ireland’s World Cup starts on September 11.