Keenan and Gibson-Park making good progress in time for Springboks clash

Farrell and his coaching team take charge of the Ireland and Ireland A squads for both games at the weekend at the Aviva Stadium and the RDS

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell hopes to have fullback Hugo Keenan, scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, and openside flanker Josh van der Flier available for Saturday’s Test match against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium.

Keenan and Gibson-Park, who have yet to play any rugby this season because of injury, took a full part in Ireland training last week while it is anticipated that van der Flier will be reintegrated to training on Tuesday.

Tadhg Furlong, who has only played 40 minutes for Leinster this season, also trained fully as did Peter O’Mahony and Tadhg Beirne.

The Ireland senior and A squads – the shadow national side take on an All Blacks Development XV at the RDS on Friday – reported for duty at Carton House on Sunday night and will train for the first time as a group on Tuesday, followed by another pitch session on the Wednesday.


Farrell and his coaching cadre of Mike Catt, Simon Easterby, Paul O’Connell, and John Fogarty will prepare both Irish sides in what will be a similar scenario to the summer tour to New Zealand, where Ireland played three Test matches and two games against the All Blacks Maori team; albeit this time there will be a shorter turnaround between games.

Munster secondrow Thomas Ahern has withdrawn from the A squad after picking up a shoulder injury against Leinster while Jamie Osborne is following the return to play protocols after sustaining a concussion in the same match. Connacht’s Gavin Thornbury is a likely replacement for Ahern, while Munster teenager Edwin Edogbo is someone that has impressed the national selectors.

Farrell named 37 players in the Ireland squad and a further 12 – 11 now without Ahern – in the A group but the combined total is likely to bolstered by a few new faces at training during the week and will exceed 50 to cater for the demands of the two matchday squads at the weekend.

A few players involved on Friday night, either starting or on the bench, may double up as numbers 24-28 for the Springbok game in case of last-minute injuries on the morning of the game. Farrell will announce the Ireland A team on Wednesday with Max Deegan a strong candidate to captain the side after doing so on two occasions with Emerging Ireland in South Africa.

The number eight played 70 minutes for Leinster in their win over the Scarlets, as did team-mate Scott Penny, while other Ireland A squad members, Diarmuid Barron, Jack Crowley, Shane Daly, Roman Salanoa, Dave Kilcoyne, Marty Moore, and James Hume were in action in Ulster’s 15-14 win over Munster at Thomond Park.

Connacht scrumhalf Caolin Blade was a try scorer in his side’s victory over the Ospreys.

The Ireland senior team to play the Springboks will be announced on Thursday with both squads moving into the Shelbourne Hotel. South Africa cancelled their proposed media conference for Monday due to a delay in getting flights to Dublin.

Meanwhile Munster head coach Graham Rowntree confirmed that his injury-ravaged squad would be given a little time off before coming together to prepare for their game against South Africa A at Páirc Uí Chaoimh on Tuesday week.

The Irish province has lost to the full South African side on three occasions in the past and they remain the only major touring side that Munster have yet to beat. Despite his depleted resources, Rowntree explained that everyone was really looking forward to the match.

“Absolutely. You’d welcome it any time, test yourselves against a group like that in such a historic stadium.

“It’s going to be some occasion for the group. Look how famous other games like that have been. The Maori, the All Blacks, Australia, look how famous those games have been. It’s just what we need now. We need a week off, to be fair. The head coach needs a week off to chill out. Then we’ve got to get some wounds, some injuries cleared but then we hit that game with huge momentum.”

One player who won’t be part of the Springboks’ squad is Ulster number eight Duane Vermeulen, outstanding in his side’s win over Munster. Ulster head coach Dan McFarland has no doubt that the player will be in France next season as part of the South African squad looking to defend their title as world champions.

“The man is an impact machine. He is a top, top fella. I saw Jacques [Nienaber] or Rassie [Erasmus] say that they were looking at some young fellas but I know that in the back of their minds that Duane is an MVP from a World Cup final. Having him in the room makes a difference.”

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer