Rugby: Kearney to run with strong Irish side

By David Leggat

Ireland have named what could be their strongest lineup to play Australia in the big pool C game at the Rugby World Cup - but try getting coach Declan Kidney to put it in those terms.

He has made four changes from the starting XV which beat the United States, less than totally convincingly, 22-10 in New Plymouth last weekend - fullback Rob Kearney, halfback Eion Reddan, fast-rising flanker Sean O'Brien and loosehead prop Cian Healy coming in for the crunch game at Eden Park on Saturday night.

But Kidney, admitting partly out of a sense of loyalty to his entire squad, would not get into the business of putting a label on this XV.

"My belief in this squad is that whoever is playing at the time is the strongest side," he said yesterday.

"In asking me a question like that you're asking me to denigrate some of the lads I've left out and I won't do that.

"I've picked these fellows not just to turn up. I believe they can play the game we want to play and get us the result we want to get."

Classy fullback Kearney, a Lion in South Africa two years ago, returns after a year marred by injury, including a knee operation last November and a groin tear after a game and a half in the leadup programme for the cup.

"It's probably not ideal preparation for me, and something that frightens me a little bit, but that's sport," he said.

"You've got to play the hand you're dealt." Jonathan Sexton retains the first five-eighths role ahead of 100-plus cap veteran Ronan O'Gara, while elsewhere there's a combative, experienced look to the Ireland team.

Munster locks Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan have 41 tests together, while the loose forward trio, No 8 Jamie Heaslip, and flankers Stephen Ferris and O'Brien, form a top-class, ball-running trio.

To O'Brien goes the open side role, in the injury-enforced absence of Paul Wallace.

That is significant as how Ireland will cope at the breakdown - where Australia possess the muscular, in-form David Pocock as a top-drawer fetcher - will have a significant bearing on the contest.

O'Connell, the 2009 Lions skipper, rates Pocock "probably the best in the world at the moment in terms of disrupting the breakdown".

"If we're going to get our back row and backline into the game we need to be very accurate and aggressive," he said.

"The breakdown and quality of the ball any backline or back row get can define a game, so that's going to be a massive battle."

Kidney was asked if Ireland could draw inspiration from fellow Celts Wales and their bullish performance against South Africa in Wellington last Sunday night, when they lost 17-16, but should have won.

"We wouldn't need to look to the Welsh for inspiration, to be honest," Kidney said. "We're well able to inspire ourselves. We're playing the Tri-Nations champions and that's the sort of game you really look forward to. The trick is not to get too anxious about it."

IRELAND v AUSTRALIA

Eden Park, 8.30pm Saturday

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)

IRELAND

Rob Kearney
Tommy Bowe
Brian O'Driscoll
Gordon D'Arcy
Keith Earls
Jonathan Sexton
Eion Reddan
Jamie Heaslip
Sean O'Brien
Stephen Ferris
Paul O'Connell
D. O'Callaghan
Mike Ross
Rory Best
Cian Healy

Reserves
Jerry Flannery, Tom Court, Donnacha Ryan, Deanis Leamy, Conor Murray, Ronan O'Gara, Andrew Trimble

- NZ Herald

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