RYAN VREDE, in Dublin, reports Jamie Heaslip has been named Ireland captain for Saturday’s Test against the Springboks, while South Africa-born Richardt Strauss will make his Test debut.
O’Connell’s withdrawal compounds an already desperate situation for the hosts, who are without Brian O’Driscoll, Rory Best, Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and Rob Kearney.
O’Connell initially looked likely to overcome a back injury in time to be considered for selection but suffered a recurrence in training on Wednesday and will be assessed by a specialist today.
Strauss has served his required three-year residency and the former Cheetahs man lines up against his cousin, Adriaan, in the front row. ‘I made my commitment to Ireland three years ago and i’m just very happy to have gotten to this point,’ Strauss said. ‘It’s special to run out for Ireland. I would have taken it if it was against an U13 B team, so the opposition doesn’t really matter.’
Kidney added: ‘A guy like Richardt has done well after picking up his things and come over here. It wouldn’t have been easy but he fought his way to where he is now and he is a merit pick.’
Strauss’s Leinster team-mates Mike Ross and Cian Healy shook off injury concerns to start complete the front row. In the back division, Simon Zebo takes over from Kearney at fullback, while Keith Earls fills the void left by O’Driscoll. ‘It was a case of getting the form players onto the pitch,’ Kidney explained. ‘All three of our back three have been going well and if South Africa stick to their kicking game they’ll be busy.’
Heaslip said they aimed to pin the Springboks in their territory. ‘The Springboks are pretty confrontational and make no bones about running at or over you. They look to provide nice quick ball to their backs from set or general play and try and get some tries off you. They can also punish you from penalties 50m out. They have to make sure we don’t give them outs inside their own half (tactical/clearing kicks) and when we have the ball we have to put them under pressure and see if they can live with us.’
The visitors have their own injury crisis, with a clutch of experienced players missing. Kidney, however, stressed this would not be as significant a factor as some believe it will be.
‘They’re the third ranked team in the world. The fact that they have a few knocks won’t matter, they have greater depth than us,’ he said. ‘They’ve gone well in the U20 World Championships and that is always a good platform to bring young players through. We probably don’t know as much about some of the younger lads as we do the more experienced players, which is a benefit to them.’
Ireland - 15 Simon Zebo, 14 Tommy Bowe, 13 Keith Earls, 12 Gordon D’Arcy, 11 Andrew Trimble, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Jamie Heaslip (c), 7 Chris Henry, 6 Peter O’Mahony, 5 Mike McCarthy, 4 Donnacha Ryan, 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Subs – 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Dave Kilcoyne, 18 Michael Bent, 19 Donncha O’Callaghan, 20 Iain Henderson, 21 Ronan O’Gara, 22 Eoin Reddan, 23 Fergus McFadden.