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Ireland fired up by sense of injustice

Ireland v Australia, Guinness Series: Aviva Stadium Saturday, 5.30 pm

By Jonathan Bradley

Published 22/11/2016

Pain game: Robbie Henshaw was concussed by a tackle from Sam Cane
Pain game: Robbie Henshaw was concussed by a tackle from Sam Cane

Even as they switched their attention to Saturday's visit of Australia, Ireland were yesterday still being forced to count the cost of their bruising encounter with New Zealand last weekend.

Robbie Henshaw will certainly be absent for the clash with the Wallabies after being knocked unconscious by a tackle from Sam Cane on Saturday while both Rob Kearney and CJ Stander are going through the return to play protocols following suspected concussions.

Ireland will also be missing Johnny Sexton thanks to a minor hamstring problem with Tadhg Furlong battling a dead leg.

New Zealand came into the game still smarting from losing their 111-year unbeaten record against Ireland earlier this month and much has since been made over their physical approach in the rematch.

Team manager Mick Kearney left little doubt over his position.

"I don't think we're whinging, the facts speak for themselves," he said during his final media duties before stepping down at the end of this month.

"What I would say is the citing officer picked out 12 incidents during the game, 11 of them referred to New Zealand.

"The one that referred to us was a clean-out of Sam Cane at a ruck and we were cleared of any foul play in that incident.

"It is disappointing to be honest, there were a number of tackles and bangs around the head.

"We received the edict from World Rugby in the last week or 10 days and Joe (Schmidt) would have sat the squad down, showed them the various footage - including examples of tackles around the head and neck area.

"World Rugby had said, if these incidents occur then you are liable to a red card possibly.

"So that obviously didn't happen."

Cane and Malakai Fekitoa were the only two players ultimately cited and will find out their fate at a hearing in London this afternoon.

Kiwi coach Steve Hansen has said they plan to contest any attempt to sanction Cane after referee Jaco Peyper and his TMO awarded only a penalty during the game.

"They are what they are," he said. "Fekitoa's challenge was clumsy and high, but we will defend Sam's - we believe it was a head clash.

"We can understand why the citing commissioner wants to cite it, a guy got knocked out.

"We'll go there and get a good hearing, I'm hoping, and go from there."

Kearney, for his part, was adamant in his assertion that the damage to Henshaw was the product of a high shoulder not a head collision.

"Robbie Henshaw was knocked unconscious by a shoulder contact to his jaw," he stressed. "He suffered a concussion and will not be involved this week.

"Johnny Sexton has suffered a minor hamstring injury and has been ruled out of the game at the weekend.

"Rob Kearney developed concussive symptoms after the game. He will follow the graduated return to play.

"CJ Stander was removed for a suspected concussion and will complete the HIA process and the return to play protocols."

Despite Ireland's large list of injury concerns, and criticism from the likes of Alan Quinlan and Jeremy Guscott, hooker Dane Coles insists the back-to-back World champions are not a dirty side.

"We can't control what other people say," he contended.

"All we can control is our performance and the way we play. If people don't like that then obviously you can't please everyone.

"We take a lot of pride in playing the game in the right way and in our performance," he added.

The unfortunate events could, however, offer an opportunity to a pair of Ulstermen, with centre Stuart Olding called into the squad to cover Henshaw's absence, while Paddy Jackson is looking to see off the challenge from Leinster's Joey Carbery to fill Sexton's ten jersey.

Without at least two of their walking wounded for Saturday's clash, Ireland have been depleted by their efforts last weekend while Australia were able to beat France despite resting a handful of presumed starters.

Michael Cheika, the former Leinster head coach, who is now coach of the world's third-ranked side, said it was important to manage his squad as they near the conclusion of their season which ends against England on December 3.

"They didn't have the feet up at the hotel relaxing," he said of those who missed the win in Paris.

"However many there was, only a handful, they had some time off and some time working and training.

"All of them who have had big loads this year. But at the same time, I think we're just starting to get to our proper fitness. Last week was not just about breaking guys, it was also about giving other guys an opportunity.

"Which one was the priority is only in my head. But there was definitely a combination of both factors.

"It's just a choice we made and they'll have to get themselves back into training with the team quick smart.

"They trained Thursday with the team last week, and back into the swing of it quick smart to get ready for this weekend."

Belfast Telegraph

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