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Joe Schmidt set to rest big names for summer tour

By David Kelly

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt is offering some of his leading stars the option to skip this summer's tour to Argentina.

With the likelihood that one or more Irish teams could be competing in a PRO12 final on May 31, a day before the squad jet out for a gruelling two-Test tour beginning on June 7, it is understood Schmidt is likely to broaden his squad selection.

Recovering stars such as Sean O'Brien and Stephen Ferris will not be considered as they continue to rehab after long-term injuries while Jonny Sexton will also be rested after a gruelling season, even if his Racing Metro side don't make the latter stages of the Top 14 play-offs which clash with the tour.

Schmidt is determined to enjoy a successful tour to build on the Six Nations title success but, a year out from the World Cup, he is also concerned with maintaining his side's peak fitness.

Hence, some established stars will be allowed some discretion over whether they tour or not and Schmidt will draft in others, such as Simon Zebo, who failed to make the Six Nations cut.

However, full-back Rob Kearney has expressed his desire to tour if a scenario arises where he is allowed to choose.

"For me, it's only a two-week tour and I'd find it very hard to turn down an opportunity to play for your country as well," he said.

"I don't necessarily buy into the whole idea of tiredness and all that.

"I've played more rugby this season than I've probably ever done in my entire career.

"Last summer, probably last season too, I didn't play an awful lot of rugby so it might balance up a bit.

"An awful lot of it depends on whether you pick up those annoying little niggles during a season, and how fresh you keep your body.

"And I've done a few things this year that I haven't necessarily done over the previous six or seven years that have kept me in much better shape too.

"I'd probably be one of the guys who coaches and medical staff might think needs to take a bit of a break.

"But I just find it very difficult to say no to playing for your country.

"I'm looking forward to it and I'm ready to rock."

Meanwhile, there is growing speculation that former Cork Con coach Brian Walsh is set to become a key member of Anthony Foley's coaching team in Munster next season.

The former Munster player is believed to be coming on board and is likely to concentrate on coaching the backs next season as part of the new management structure.

Walsh has an honour-laden career as a player and a coach and will be the latest link in a Munster indigenous coaching team which will also include his former Cork Con and Munster colleague Mick O'Driscoll, who will be concentrating on working with the forwards.

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