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Ireland camp united in defence of Schmidt's Six Nations selections

By Jonathan Bradley

With their Six Nations ambitions already having had to be revised in light of last weekend's loss to Wales, the Ireland camp closed ranks yesterday as scrum coach Greg Feek defended Joe Schmidt's selection policy.

After Ulster winger Tommy Bowe was unable to take his place in the squad for the clash with England on Saturday (Aviva Stadium, 5pm) thanks to the ankle fracture he sustained in Cardiff, experienced Leinster back-three player Fergus McFadden was called in as a replacement.

Bowe himself had been called into the panel after Andrew Trimble broke a bone in his hand, and the loss of such elder statesmen of the squad could have been used as an opportunity to give some in-form youngsters exposure to the set-up, especially given that there is no title at stake.

But rather than rewarding the likes of Ulster's Jacob Stockdale or Munster's Darren Sweetnam, Schmidt opted for the tried and tested by bringing in McFadden, a player who has won 32 caps but made just four appearances for his province this season.

Reaction from some fans on social media was unkind to say the least.

As well as citing some intangibles, Feek pointed to McFadden's familiarity with the camp as one reason for his inclusion.

"I think what Ferg bring to the camp is quite a different element, not just on the pitch at training," said the former All Black.

"He's got a great personality and he's a great team man.

"He mixes with the guys really well. He's got experience so he can slot in without any stress.

"He can actually mentor some people on top of that. There's a bit of abrasiveness at training to add a bit of realism and it puts a bit of heat on the starting line-up if he's in the bibs.

"He's just the type of guy you can rely on for that whole week, he can do multiple jobs at once and if we need him on the weekend we know he'll give 100%. It's a good acknowledgement of Ferg's character as well."

And the changes of McFadden's possible involvement in Saturday's attempts to derail an English Grand Slam were growing further yesterday with the news that Munster's Keith Earls missed training at Carton House.

The 29-year-old has started all four games of the championship, scoring three tries, and looked like the visitor's most threatening back in Cardiff.

He has, however, developed a tight groin and, with the squad off today, would be training tomorrow for a first time this week.

Feek was optimistic on his chances of facing the English, while adding that Ulster's Jared Payne is in the mix for selection.

"With Jared you've got to look at the weekend, where he would slot in, how he's tracking physically and where he is with everything else," he added.

"He's a great guy to have in the camp, let alone on the field.

"He's always an option, and if he's fully fit then that would be even more of a headache."

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