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Dublin: 13 °C Saturday 15 August, 2020

Thinning out: Ireland's back row resources are set to be tested

With the Six Nations less than a month away injuries are starting to hit Declan Kidney’s squad hard, who will he ask to step up?

Leamy in action before this year's World Cup
Leamy in action before this year's World Cup

WITH BRIAN O’DRISCOLL and David Wallace already ruled out of this year’s Six Nations the last thing Declan Kidney wanted was for more experienced campaigners to fall by the wayside.

Yet, Even before the Heineken Cup gets really tasty this weekend, that is precisely what he has got after Munster confirmed that Denis Leamy’s hip will need an operation.

Add his absence to the captain, Wallace and the retired John Hayes and Geordan Murphy and it amounts to a small scale clearing of the decks on the good ship ‘Ireland’.

Hayes may have been a peripheral figure in last year’s Championship owing to the overdue favouring of Mike Ross while Leamy had to make way Jamie Heaslip after failing to impress against Italy. However, the value to the group of this quintet’s experience (a combined 423 caps) should not taken lightly.

Filling the vaunted number 13 jersey with any torso other than O’Driscoll’s will always be tough to get used to so it is fortunate that the injuries in the back row have not come to the front line trio of Heaslip, Sean O’Brien and Stephen Ferris. the problem now is; who can make the step up to be their understudy or even run them tight for the jersey.

The Obvious:

Shane Jennings should rightly be given first dibs, if not because of his vast experience, for his superior abilities as an openside. Kidney, though, seems to undervalue the former Leicester man and will probably opt for somebody who can cover six and eight on the bench. Despite the likely inclusions of Sean O’Brien and Donncha Ryan.

Step forward Peter O’Mahony: the Corkman  has set the Rabodirect Pro 12 alight this season and proved himself adept at making his presence felt at both blind and open side. His form should be enough to rank above Kevin McLaughlin, though his only try this campaign came along with a man of the match award against Castres last time out in the Heineken Cup and, at 22 years of age, he could be around for at least two more World Cups. The sooner he gets blooded in a green shirt the better.

The Upstarts:

Sure, some of these guys have been on the provincial scene a little longer than O’Mahony but, thanks to a cruel blend of injury and Leinster’s greater resources, the growth (not literally, obviously) of Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan has been stunted.

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Neither will be 22 before the Wales game kicks off (on 4 February) yet both hold huge potential on either side of the pack. Barring a spate of injuries this International period will come too soon for them so, while the big guns are away, the excellent proving ground of Donnybrook and the Pro12 will hopefully provide a little more precious game time this spring.

The long-shot:

Kidney does throw out some surprises now and then. So if he preferred a balance between a young lad, still wet behind the ears, and proven provincial stalwart, who won’t it to make England 2015, then perhaps he his gaze North to Chris Henry. He may not specialist openside, but Henry plays there with great gusto - a trait which kept Kidney returning to Leamy time and time again.

Helping Ulster to the top of Heineken Cup pool 4 (and hopefully staying there for two more weeks) the 27 year old’s only international cap so far came away to New Zealand last year.

Surely anyone thrown into the lions den like that deserves another bite at the cherry, perhaps against slightly more forgiving opponents.

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