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Earls and Kearney remain doubts for Scotland despite training in Japan
Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour could be in line to get starting opportunities.

KEITH EARLS AND Rob Kearney remain doubts for Ireland’s World Cup Pool A opener against Scotland in Yokohama on Sunday, despite assistant coach Andy Farrell insisting both will be in the selection mix.

Meanwhile, Robbie Henshaw has been definitively ruled out of the Scotland game, but Farrell said he will come “back into the mix” for Ireland’s second fixture against Japan.

rob-kearney Dan Sheridan / INPHO Rob Kearney at Ireland training today. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Munster wing Earls has been struggling with a knee injury in recent weeks, while Leinster fullback Kearney picked up a lower leg issue at training in Japan this week.

Both players togged out at Ireland training earlier today in Chiba but it’s understood that their involvement against the Scots is still heavily in doubt.

If Earls and Kearney are ruled out, it would mean starting opportunities for Andrew Conway and Jordan Larmour in Ireland’s back three.

It could be that Conway’s strong aerial skills see him wear the number 15 shirt for Ireland, with Larmour potentially lining out on the right wing and Jacob Stockdale continuing on the left. 

Ireland have not yet ruled Kearney and Earls out of Sunday’s contest, instead insisting they are making good progress and that they will be in the mix.

“We’re pleased with how things have gone today. Keith and Rob ran well and trained well today,” said Farrell in Yokohama today.

“They are available. There are a few protocols that they need to go through that we need to adhere to with the medical staff. But they are very happy with their progress.

“They’re available. We have another session to go on Friday and the game on Sunday, so we’re building nicely. Everyone will be fit to train on Friday, so we’ll make our selection in the next couple of days.”

While Earls and Kearney being fit would be a big boost for Ireland, there would be an obvious heightened risk in playing them this weekend. Schmidt and his coaching staff will be cognisant of the fact that the World Cup is a long tournament.

“We wouldn’t take risks unecessarily,” said Farrell, “we’ve got act according to what’s put in front of us by the medics. We’ll have a feel and make a decision on the back of that. 

If Larmour and Conway are called upon, Farrell believes they’re ready.

“They don’t see themselves as just part of the squad now, they are team members building for something special hopefully at the weekend,” said the defence coach.

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andrew-conway Dan Sheridan / INPHO Andrew Conway could get a chance in the back three. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“Jordan is a young lad but where he has come from in the last couple of years is remarkable.”  

“We’ve got a good squad, come what may. Even if [Earls and Kearney] weren’t fit, we’d have a good side out there at the weekend.”

Farrell said that Henshaw is making positive progress and – despite fears his World Cup could have been over after a hamstring injury – claimed that the centre will be back in contention for the clash with Japan.

“Robbie won’t make this weekend,” said Farrell. “They’re very happy with his progress. He’ll sit out this weekend and he’ll be in the mix for the following weekend. The progress has been great, he’s hitting all his markers as far as return-to-train. They’re happy and hopefully, he will keep that upward curve.”

Farrell also confirmed that strength and conditioning coach Ciaran Ruddock has been trained with the Ireland squad, the former Leinster academy forward having togged out to add numbers on the training pitch.

Indeed, Farrell himself has got involved in training too.

“Ciaran has been thrown up there [in the lineout], he’s also played on the wing, in at fullback and he’s smashed a few in training over the last few days, so he’s enjoying himself.

“I actually togged out on Monday, still suffering for it today!”

Ireland’s team selection for this weekend will be fascinating, although Henshaw being ruled out clears the way for Bundee Aki and Garry Ringrose to line out in the midfield. 

keith-fox-and-keith-earls Dan Sheridan / INPHO Keith Earls has been carrying a knee injury. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

While Ireland have settled and obvious first-choice picks in the front row and halfbacks, Schmidt has tough calls to make in the second row, back row and back three – the latter being dependent on the aforementioned injuries.

Jean Kleyn has been pressing for inclusion alongside James Ryan in the second row and would offer grunt against a Scotland pack Ireland will expect to outmuscle, although Iain Henderson’s status as the primary lineout caller in this squad makes him an attractive option.

While most people expect Schmidt to go with a starting back row of vice-captain Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander, the likes of Tadhg Beirne, Jack Conan and Rhys Ruddock all offer a range of real strengths. Conan’s ball-carrying, Beirne’s breakdown threat, and Ruddock’s physicality make them live options.

Ireland say they expect Earls and Kearney to be available but the decision may be taken out of Schmidt’s hands in the back three.

Of course, Chris Farrell is an option in midfield and Schmidt has used Ringrose on the wing off the bench twice recently, but it would be a surprise if the Leinster man wasn’t wearing the 13 shirt. 


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