Such an arduous selection of warm-up games always had the potential of throwing some injury spanners into the selectorial works, but for the most part, Ireland’s initial medical reports were largely positive. Long-term sick-notes Jerry Flannery, Stephen Ferris, Rob Kearney and Geordan Murphy have all come through their rehab and out the other side, and it looked until this week that the sole trade-off would be the luckless Felix Jones. That has all changed with David Wallace’s most unfortunate injury.
Wallace has started Ireland’s last thirty Six Nations games; he hasn’t missed a game in the tournament since the turn of 2006, and has contributed magnificently over the last half decade to any and all successes the team has enjoyed. He has been an immensely valuable player to the team, probably moreso than anyone bar Brian O’Driscoll, O’Connell and maybe O’Gara, although when you think about it Wallace has been both far more consistently selected and consistently good than O’Gara in the last couple of years.
It’s difficult to know at the moment just how keenly his loss will be felt, but there’s no doubt it’s a body blow. Shane Jennings has been called into the squad as a replacement, but it’s probable that Declan Kidney will choose to have his best three backrowers on the pitch together and start O’Brien at openside, Ferris on the blind and Heaslip at No8.
The recent injuries to Healy, O’Driscoll and O’Brien – three clear starters – are less clear-cut in their repercussions than that of Wallace, and it’s difficult to tell where each player stands. Healy is now not even flying out on the same plane as the rest of the squad, and is likely to miss the first game against the USA; O’Brien and O’Driscoll are known unknowns to all but the inner sanctum of management and medical staff. Declan Kidney has been throwing the word “prudent” around like he lost a bet, but knee ligament damage [O’Brien] and recurring nerve damage [O’Driscoll] seem like serious injuries rather than cuts and bruises.
Still, rugby is a collision sport and injuries happen. Personally, I believe that the thinking behind the warm-up games was decisive and sure-footed, and while the performances have been largely [though not wholly] disappointing, Kidney has certainly avoided being seen to repeat O’Sullivan’s mistakes. Unfortunately however, at the moment we’re seeing different approaches but similar failings as four years ago. Worrying stuff.