Stephen Ferris cleared for Ireland duty


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The Independent Online

Stephen Ferris will be available for Ireland's RBS 6 Nations clash with France on Saturday after being cleared of tip-tackling Wales lock Ian Evans.

Ferris faced a hearing in London this afternoon after being cited for the challenge on Evans in the final minute of last weekend's 23-21 defeat at Lansdowne Road.

Following analysis of the video evidence and consideration of the explanation for the tackle, the three-man independent Six Nations disciplinary committee chose not to uphold the citing.

Ferris reacted to the decision on Twitter, saying: "Thank goodness that is all over. Happy man."

The tackle resulted in referee Wayne Barnes issuing a yellow card and penalty, which Leigh Halfpenny landed to snatch victory for Wales.

It was widely felt that the tackle, in which Ferris picked up Evans by his right leg and dumped him on his side, warranted a penalty at worst.

Ireland were hopeful their destructive blindside flanker would escape any punishment and have been vindicated by the verdict of the hearing.

With Ferris in the clear, coach Declan Kidney has avoided an enforced reshuffle of his back row for tomorrow's team announcement.

Ireland have prevailed just once in Paris since 1972 and Kidney will keep changes to a minimum, despite the disappointing start to the championship.

Keith Earls, who has rejoined the squad this week after his new-born baby daughter was discharged from hospital, is likely to start at outside centre as originally intended.

Fergus McFadden deputised in Earls' absence, but failed to do enough to suggest he should keep the jersey.

Centre Gordon D'Arcy has been criticised for his performance against Wales, but the chances of Kidney dropping his backline's most experienced player in Paris are remote.

Otherwise Ireland's coach faces the same conundrum that presented itself pre-Wales - the identity of the half-backs.

The partnership of Jonathan Sexton and Conor Murray was far from assured at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, so Ronan O'Gara and Eoin Reddan could be promoted to the starting line-up.

Determining selection may take longer than normal with Ireland one defeat away from an inglorious conclusion to their title aspirations.

Losing to Wales has piled the pressure on for Saturday night and Kidney knows they must topple France if they are to remain relevant.

The team was hurt by its performance in the opening round and tighthead prop Mike Ross insists they are determined to make amends.

"We're pretty disappointed with the way Sunday's game turned out," he said.

"We've resolved this week to put right a lot of the things that went wrong. We need to step up and start delivering.

"Losing the way we did was hard to take, but in rugby you can't dwell upon previous failure for too long because the next game arrives so quickly.

"We have an opportunity to rectify what went wrong and that's something we're keen to do.

"Paris can be bit of a bear-pit and we can't afford to be off our game or we'll face a hiding.

"Just like in the Heineken Cup, French teams seem to step it up 15-20% when they play at home.

"The Stade de France is a tough place to go and we're under no illusion of what faces us. If we get it wrong, we're in for a long evening.

"If we lose on Saturday then it's fair to say the championship is gone.

"I can't see a team losing two matches but winning the Six Nations. A clearer picture will emerge after this weekend."