Declan Kidney this week named his squad to face South Africa, Fiji and Argentina in the 2012 Guinness Series.
Dealing with the bad news first, Leinster full-back Rob Kearney has been omitted from the squad due to a re-occurring back injury he picked up last month. The current European player of the year requires surgery to resolve the problem, and is expected to sit out the next ten weeks of action. Hopefully Kearney will be able to return for the Six Nations in the New Year, because Ireland’s hopes look a shade darker without the Leinster man.
The brighter news is that Kidney has one eye on the future, looking to hand first international caps to four players in the upcoming trio of games. Centre Luke Marshall, fresh from his u20 World Championship with the Irish set-up, is in line to make his debut alongside fellow Ulster forward Iain Henderson and Munster prop David Kilcoyne.
Also included in the squad is established Leinster player Richardt Strauss, having qualified as an Irish international due to his residency for the past three years. The South African born hooker will provide experience and needed bulk to the Irish pack, as well as offering more than ample replacement for Ulsterman Rory Best.
Overall, a solid mix of new blood, established players and an old guard which may give Ireland some kind of a fighting chance against the Southern-Hemisphere outfits. Argentina endured a rocky start to their new rugby life, scraping a solitary draw out of the Rugby Championship involving themselves, Australia, South Africa and reigning world champions New Zealand. South Africa are, well, South Africa. Players such as Bryan Habana, Morné Steyn and Naas Botha have the power, pace and precision to knock any team off their feet. Fiji should provide a good run-out for those on the fringes of the squad.
I’d expect two wins from the three games, regardless of the absence of Kearney. I just can’t see Ireland matching South Africa over eighty minutes, but you would expect them to knock seven shades out of the Fijians with only half a team out. Hopefully Kidney’s men can bury a few disappointing years and push into the new year with a bit of momentum behind them.
Ireland squad for 2012 Autumn Internationals;
Rory Best, Tommy Bowe, Darren Cave, Tom Court, Gordon D'Arcy, Keith Earls, Stephen Ferris, Cian Healy, Jamie Heaslip, Iain Henderson, Chris Henry, David Kilcoyne, Luke Marshall, John Muldoon, Conor Murray, Mike McCarthy, Fergus McFadden, Kevin McLaughlin, Donncha O'Callaghan, Paul O'Connell, Brian O'Driscoll, Ronan O'Gara, Peter O'Mahony, Eoin Reddan, Mike Ross, Donnacha Ryan, Jonathan Sexton, Richardt Strauss, Andrew Trimble, Dan Tuohy, Simon Zebo
Saturday 10th November. Ireland -v- South Africa
Saturday 17th November. Ireland XV -v- Fiji
Saturday 24th November. Ireland -v- Argentina