Rugby World Cup: Jack Conan the only Ireland player ruled out of Tonga clash

Dan Sheehan, Dave Kilcoyne and Robbie Henshaw set to be in selection mix for Saturday’s game

Dan Sheehan, Dave Kilcoyne and Robbie Henshaw all appear to be back in the selection mix for Ireland’s second World Cup Pool B match against Tonga in Nantes on Saturday (kick-off 9pm local/8pm Irish), although Jack Conan has been ruled out.

Speaking in the Complexe de la Chambriere in Tours after training on another warm, sunny day, the Ireland team manager Mick Kearney confirmed that Sheehan, Kilcoyne and Henshaw “were all integrated fully into training today, and all trained fully”.

“We had a very good training session today and everybody came through that really well. Jack [Conan] was out running, which was a real positive, and while Saturday will come a little bit early for him, I think the signs are really positive in terms of being able to train fully next week, and hopefully he will be available for South Africa.”

Conan has been sidelined since Ireland’s first warm-up match against Italy with a torn ligament in his foot. But whereas Sheehan’s recovery from a similar injury has been quicker, Conan’s injury has been a greater source of concern for both the player and the management.


Conan played only one match in the last World Cup before being forced out of the tournament with a foot injury. This was has first running session “for the last few days” according to Kearney, which would suggest the backrower may have had a setback in his recuperation.

“He has been doing most of his rehab in the gym with the physios. Today was obviously a very big day for him in terms of getting out and running. He ran really well, it’s really positive and he was in a good place afterwards.”

Kearney was accompanied at the top table by Keith Earls, making for a Mick and Keith double act in front of the cameras and microphones. The evergreen Earls is something of a World Cup veteran, this being his fourth.

“It’s definitely a bit more relaxed, I think, in the environment. We know how to deal with pressure a lot better now as a group. We know how big these tournaments are, we have had a good welcome in Tours, it’s been great.

“We have obviously achieved a lot, and we know when we are on it and we are switched on and we play our game plan, we know we are well capable of competing and doing special things.

“I know it’s a cliche and you always hear it from us, we won’t be looking past Saturday, but obviously we have touched on it. We are confident in our ability. We will be looking to go deep if we reach our standards.”

Kearney has worked alongside three Irish head coaches, and all have led Ireland to Grand Slams. Echoing high-performance coach Gary Keegan, he attributes the relaxed environment, along with the improved confidence and belief, to Andy Farrell.

Highlighting “an incredible connection” between players and staff, Kearney said the humble and hard-working attitude of the staff permeates down to the players.

“From the player point of view, there are no egos, they are incredibly humble. There’s an incredible work ethic between the staff and the players. The coaching team are working so hard to make the players better, which in turn builds the confidence. I don’t think it’s something you can build overnight. It’s something that has been building for the last four years really. I see now everybody is comfortable in the system, they train hard, their habits are really good.

“For me it’s a privilege to be involved in such an incredible environment with such genuinely good people all around me,” said Kearney.

Not that egos were an issue in the past, he added, more that each head coach brings a different dynamic to a group.

“I’ve been involved back since 2012 under Declan Kidney and then when Joe [Schmidt] came in he brought a different dynamic. I think Declan brought a different dynamic from Eddie O’Sullivan.

“It’s very hard to compare a group of players or one management team to another. I look back at my four years working with Joe and to me there was an incredible environment under Joe and you look at when Joe came in in 2013 and won back to back Six Nations in ‘14 and ‘15, we went to South Africa, won a Test match in Cape Town, we beat the All Blacks in Chicago.

“That environment was an incredible environment as well but I just think the coaches bring different nuances as they come on board and they change things up. Whether it be a head coach or a CEO, they never do the same as the previous CEO or previous head coach, they like to bring their own mark and their own style of coaching and management and looking after players and people.

“It’s different but that doesn’t say whether it’s better or worse. It’s just different.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times