THE crisis deepens. The search for players widens. That is the reality of the confirmed loss of Ireland wing Tommy Bowe and number eight Jamie Heaslip to injury for the opening day of the Six Nations campaign against Italy in Rome on Saturday week.
“Bowe has been carrying a knee injury which was reviewed by both the Ospreys and Ireland medical teams and respective specialist consultants,” read an IRFU statement last night.
“It was concluded that Bowe would not be fit to play for the Italy game and the Ireland medical team will continue to liaise with the Ospreys to determine when he will be fit to return to play.”
The removal of Heaslip from the equation further widens the door for Sean O’Brien to be planted in between the experienced British & Irish Lions Stephen Ferris, expected to recover from a knee injury, and David Wallace.
“Jamie Heaslip also had his ankle injury reviewed by a specialist today and they confirmed he will not be available for selection for the Italy game. Heaslip will continue his rehabilitation and has not been ruled out of contention for the France game at this point,” added the statement.
Bowe joins the previously sidelined back three players Rob Kearney, Geordan Murphy, Shane Horgan and Andrew Trimble, leaving Ireland coach Declan Kidney with little room for manoeuvre in this area. Leinster’s Fergus McFadden has been called into the Ireland squad.
He could be a shock starter in Rome. It is more likely that Kidney will plump for Luke Fitzgerald and Keith Earls on the wings and Irish Wolfhounds’ Gavin Duffy at full-back.
Suddenly, Connacht’s Duffy is on trial for his first start in the Six Nations. It is a remarkable rebound for the 29-year-old.
He has always been seen as a sound option without the X Factor so often necessary for international rugby. Duffy has played 10 times for Ireland, enjoying the confidence of previous Ireland coach Eddie O’Sullivan in leadership roles on tours to Japan and Argentina.
For all of Fitzgerald’s gifts, he may not be in the right frame of mind for his favoured full-back role. The timing is just too soon after injury and a jittery return to Leinster’s first team.
The fact is that the Irish Wolfhounds have been given all the motivation in the world to play for themselves and each other. Munster scrum-half Tomas O’Leary, wing Johne Murphy and tighthead Tony Buckley are three players on the brink of a recall to the senior squad.
IRISH WOLFHOUNDS (v Scotland A) – to be played at Netherdale on Friday 7.30. 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.