The last thing Ireland coach Declan Kidney needs tonight (7.30) at Netherdale in the Scottish Borders, is more injuries.
By this time next week Ireland will be in Rome and with his senior squad already heavily depleted ahead of next weekend’s RBS Six Nations Championship start, Kidney can ill-afford further breaks, bumps, bangs, strains or pulls.
Certainly not to full-back Gavin Duffy, scrum-half Tomás O’Leary or tighthead Tony Buckley.
Which poses a bit of a problem, for those are three players who, in particular, have every incentive for wanting to put themselves about a little as they will see this as a great chance to stake their claims for restoration to the senior squad and a place on the plane to Rome for next Saturday afternoon’s opener at the Stadio Flaminio.
Earlier this week Kidney assured his Wolfhounds that they could force their way into the reckoning with a big performance against the Scots. He must now have his fingers crossed tightly that his promise does not come back to haunt him.
In view of the injury crisis which has smitten his senior squad he needs members of his second-string to shine, thereby convincing him that they are ready for inclusion one level up. The paradox is that in trying to go the extra mile they heighten the risk of injury.
In better circumstances Kidney may well have been tempted to examine the credentials of Leinster’s emerging scrum-half Paul O’Donoghue or Connacht prop Jamie Hagan, rather than O’Leary and Buckley, both of whom he already knows well.
Given that there is little new he can learn by including the already-tested Munster pair, his decision can only be viewed as an attempt to help them regain form. And quickly.
Duffy — whose inclusion tonight is designed to give the Connacht full-back much-needed game time — has every motivation, too, for with Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy on the long-term injury list there are number 15 — or, failing that, 22 — jerseys on offer next weekend. Duffy’s performance tonight is likely to determine which of the two he gets.
Last year’s Ireland-Scotland second strings’ meeting was at Ravenhill where it finished 34-19 to the greens. Half-a-dozen of those who played for Ireland on that occasion start tonight.
Buckley, Devin Toner and Chris Henry are the forwards, with Ian Humphreys, Johne Murphy and Duffy the backs. Injuries, alas, have ruled out Ulster pair Dan Tuohy (lock) and Darren Cave (centre) who started in that February 2010 Belfast meeting.
Munster wing Ian Dowling is another who, through injury, misses out.
So, too, does Leinster’s Fergus McFadden, though in his case his absence is due to him having been called up to the senior squad.
On the plus side, tonight gives Ulster youngsters Nevin Spence and Willie Faloon the chance to push their way forward in the queue for recognition at the top level, both having earned that by virtue of excellent outings on the Heineken Cup and Magners League stages this term. Spence in tandem with Eoin O’Malley in the centre is a promising looking partnership.
In a bid to draw a crowd to Netherdale, admission is free.|SCOTLAND ‘A’: Jim Thompson; Hefin O’Hare, Ben Cairns, John Houston, Lee Jones; David Blair, Greig Laidlaw captain; Jon Welsh, Dougie Hall, Geoff Cross; Scott MacLeod, Fraser McKenzie; Ryan Wilson, Alan MacDonald, Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Fergus Thomson, Moray Low, Rob Harley, Roddy Grant, Colin Gregor, Peter Murchie, Colin Shaw.
Coach: Nick Scrivener
IRELAND WOLFHOUNDS : G Duffy; |J Murphy, E O’Malley, N Spence, |D Hurley; I Humphreys, T O’Leary; |B Wilkinson, D Varley, T Buckley; |I Nagle, D Toner; K McLaughlin, W Faloon, C Henry captain.
Replacements: N Brady, J Hagan, A Browne, D Ryan, I Boss, N O’Connor, |I Whitten
Coaches: Eric Elwood and Anthony Foley