Rugby Union: Portents unpromising as Irish plan ahead

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THERE are nearly seven weeks until Ireland play Australia at Lansdowne Road but yesterday the Irish selectors named a squad so small that the team themselves are already as good as decided. 'We wanted to keep the squad as tight and controlled as possible,' Ciaran Fitzgerald, the coach, said. The Wallabies will hardly be quaking.

Another three or four may be added after today's Leinster-Exiles inter-provincial match in Dublin. Among the initial 22 preparing for 31 October are 10 survivors of the 59-6 hammering by New Zealand which brought the summer tour to a doleful conclusion. It is difficult now to credit that Ireland had nearly won the first Test.

Since then the Wallabies have taken the Bledisloe Cup from the All Blacks, so the auguries are as unpromising as they were before Australia met Ireland in last year's World Cup quarter-final. Then, the Irish, perverse to the end, led into injury time.

Five other members of the new squad were in New Zealand, including the uncapped centre Martin Ridge, and there is one complete newcomer: Keith Wood, 20, a hooker from Limerick whose father Gordon was a Lions prop and winner of 29 Irish caps between 1954 and 1961.

Neil Francis, now carrying a back injury, is absent yet again, leaving Ireland in the familiar position of being without their one proven ball-winner, and the scrum-half Michael Bradley asked not to be considered because he has played no representative rugby this season.

IRELAND SQUAD: Full-back: J Staples (London Irish); Wings: S Geoghegan (London Irish), R Wallace (Garryowen); Centres: V Cunningham (St Mary's College), D Curtis (London Irish), M Ridge (Blackrock College), P Danaher (Garryowen); Outside-half: P Russell (Instonians); Scrum-halves: F Aherne (Lansdowne), R Saunders (London Irish); Props: N Popplewell (Greystones), T Clancy (Lansdowne), G Halpin (London Irish), P McCarthy (Constitution); Hookers: S Smith (Ballymena), K Wood (Garryowen); Locks: B Rigney (Greystones), M Galwey (Shannon), P Johns (Dungannon); Back row: G Hamilton (Ballymena), B Robinson (London Irish), P Lawlor (Bective Rangers).

Courage league reports and results, page 24