New Zealand v Ireland: Declan Kidney facing selection headache

Declan Kidney will be forced to field a weakened side for Ireland's first Test against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday

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New Zealand beat France to win the World Cup in 2011 PA Photos

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Ireland head coach Declan Kidney faces a selection headache ahead of the first Test against New Zealand in Auckland on Saturday.

Mike Ross is a serious doubt to play against last year’s World Cup winners after the prop sustained a hamstring injury during Leinster’s 31-30 defeat by Ospreys in the RaboDirect Pro 12 final.

The 32-year-old was a mainstay of Kidney’s side that finished third in the Six Nations, while his club team-mates Cian Healy and Sean O’Brien are expected to recover in time for the game at Eden Park.

“Mike Ross is rehabbing from his hamstring tear, it is going well but he hasn’t trained fully and remains in some doubt ahead of the weekend,” Ireland team manager Mike Kearney said on Monday.

Kidney can ill-afford to miss another key member of his squad after Munster’s Paul O’Connell failed a fitness test last week. The experienced second-row is one of six injured Irish players, with Tommy Bowe, Luke Fitzgerald, Isaac Boss, Tom Court and Stephen Ferris all unavailable for the three-Test summer tour.

However, mounting injury problems have failed to dampen Kidney’s enthusiasm ahead of the trip to the Southern Hemisphere nation, and he is relishing the chance to mastermind Ireland’s first-ever victory over New Zealand.

“It’s brilliant. It’s like bungee jumping. It’s the best place to go. It’ll be 12 years before any goes again,” said Kidney.

“For some of us it will be the only time we tour New Zealand in our careers. Imagine going through your career without doing that. Simon is the youngest at 21. If he is still there at 33 he’ll be doing well. Gee, not to go down there would like having a hole in your CV.”

The closest Ireland have come to beating the All Blacks was a 10-10 draw at Lansdowne Road in 1973, with Tom Grace’s late try levelling the match, but Barry McGann’s conversion drifted narrowly wide to deny the Irish a famous win.

For the reigning world champions, it will be their first Test series under new head coach Steve Hansen, and the 53-year-old has already made attempts to leave his mark on the squad, calling up seven new faces.

Richie McCaw will captain the side, and Hansen is hoping a blend of youth and experience will prove to be a winning formula.

“We have selected a really balanced squad of experienced players who have played with distinction over a number of Tests, and a group of young players with huge potential,” said Hansen.

After the game in Auckland, Ireland travel to Canterbury for the second Test on June 16, before Kidney’s side complete their summer tour at Hamilton on June 23.

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