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Revealed: The injury count that forced wholesale Ireland changes

By PA
(Photo by Brian Lawless/PA Images via Getty Images)

Andy Farrell has revealed he is counting the cost of the bruising Ireland victory over world champions South Africa after omitting a host of big names from his squad for Saturday’s clash with Fiji. Skipper Johnny Sexton, vice-captain James Ryan, Irish player of the year Josh van der Flier, first-choice full-back Hugo Keenan and influential forwards Peter O’Mahony and Andrew Porter will not be involved this weekend.

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Head coach Farrell has made a total of nine personnel changes to his starting Ireland XV for the Fijians’ visit to Dublin, including handing a debut to Munster prop Jeremy Loughman. While his rotated selection initially appeared to be an attempt to rest key performers and give peripheral players a chance ahead of an autumn finale against Australia, the Englishman insisted his hand has been forced by injuries.

Yet he believes the unfortunate situation could serve as important preparation for a shot at World Cup glory next year in France. Asked how many of the absentees had fitness issues, he replied: “Most of them – they are all injured. Johnny, he is banged up with a bad dead leg, Josh has got something going on there, so has James Ryan, Hugo is banged up, Andrew is banged up.

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“It is what it is and this type of thing is going to happen constantly, certainly within a World Cup period, certainly when you get down to games three, four, hopefully five, six. It’s good for us. Some of them are impact injuries but some of them are serious enough. We will see how they improve.

“Most of them have done nothing this week. They are in the rehab and physio rooms so we will see how they pull up next week.”

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Ahead of the Ireland team announcement, scrum-half Conor Murray was the only player confirmed to be out due to an injury sustained against the Springboks, having left the field on the occasion of his 100th cap because of a groin issue. Sexton received on-field treatment for his leg problem, with his absence becoming apparent on Wednesday afternoon when Tadhg Furlong was named as Ireland captain for the first time.

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Prop Furlong (jarred ankle) has himself recovered from injury to retain his place, as has centre Stuart McCloskey (arm). Ireland’s altered line-up includes another opportunity for Joey Carbery to fill Sexton’s shoes at fly-half, while Jimmy O’Brien starts at full-back following an impressive debut cameo deputising in midfield for the stricken McCloskey.

Farrell played down concerns about a lack of competition for Keenan in the number 15 Ireland jersey, referencing Michael Lowry, Jacob Stockdale and Mack Hansen as other potential options as he encouraged O’Brien to stake a claim. “There are plenty of options for us but Hugo, with his consistently high performances, has deserved to own the shirt,” said Farrell.

“It’s in somebody else’s hands this week to show that they are another option. He has been playing well, Jimmy. He has been playing well for quite some time and his versatility is massive. It’s good for us to find another option going forward or not. He deserves a chance. His skill set is certainly suited to that.”

In addition to Test newcomer Loughman being named in the front row, Munster fly-half Jack Crowley and Connacht forward Cian Prendergast could make debuts from the bench.

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