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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Kearney backs Fergus to step up to the mark

Fergus McFadden will start Ireland's Six Nations clash with Wales at outside centre after Keith Earls was withdrawn for personal reasons.

Earls' partner Edel McGee gave birth to their first child, Ella-Maye, last week only for the baby to return to hospital on Wednesday because of an unspecified illness.

It was decided in conjunction with coach Declan Kidney that the 24-year-old Munster back should miss tomorrow's showdown in Dublin.

McFadden has been promoted to the starting line-up with the uncapped David Kearney, brother of full-back Rob, drafted on to the bench.

"Keith has been ruled out due to personal reasons," said team manager Michael Kearney.

"Unfortunately, his baby has been taken ill and is in hospital as we speak. The nature of the illness is unclear.

"However, I did speak to Keith (yesterday) and he was hopeful and optimistic that the baby would get home some time over the weekend.

"The decision was taken following a conversation between Declan and Keith.

"It was thought that it was in the best interests of Keith, his partner and their families that Keith remain in Limerick for the weekend."

Earls had been chosen to fill the void left by Brian O'Driscoll's championship-ending shoulder injury but Kidney has been forced into a rethink.

Earls, Ireland's leading try-scorer at last autumn's World Cup, offers more of an attacking threat than McFadden, though there are doubts over his handling and defence.

McFadden, who made his Test debut against Italy last year and is more accustomed to playing centre, is stronger in the tackle, but lacks Earls' gamebreaking ability.

Kearney insists McFadden will slot seamlessly into the line-up, having been on standby ever since concerns over the health of Earls' baby arose.

"Fergus has obviously been training with us for the last couple of weeks," said Kearney.

"When Keith missed a couple of days last week, Fergus filled in at outside centre.

"Fergus playing there isn't an issue. We confirmed the news to him (on Thursday)."

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