Ireland’s Kearney, Earls ruled out of Scotland opener

FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Six Nations Championship - Scotland v Ireland - BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh, Britain - February 9, 2019 Ireland's Rob Kearney arrives at the stadium before the match Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

YOKOHAMA (Reuters) – Ireland must do without the experience of Rob Kearney and Keith Earls in their back three for the World Cup opener against Scotland after the pair ran out of time to prove their fitness on Friday.

Munster’s Andrew Conway will take the place of Ireland’s record World Cup try scorer Earls on the wing while Leinster’s 22-year-old flyer Jordan Larmour comes in for Kearney, who was set to start in his third World Cup.

With 170 caps between the two injured men and influential centre Robbie Henshaw already ruled out, the Johnny Sexton-marshalled Irish backline will feature five World Cup debutants in Sunday’s Pool A clash.

Kearney and Earls had mostly overcome their respective calf and knee issues, however, according to coach Joe Schmidt, suggesting the two will be fit along with recovering replacement flyhalf Joey Carbery for the next game against hosts Japan.

“Keith Earls was the sharpest player in training on Wednesday so he’s good and Rob Kearney trained well too so it was really just that we were getting very tight for time and the best continuity we had was to have the guys who trained through the time that we’ve been here,” Schmidt told a news conference.

“It’s exciting to have the back three that we’ve got as well, it’s a great opportunity and a fantastic challenge for them. Their enthusiasm is something that’s contagious, their ability to get themselves into the game.”

In the pack, Schmidt opted for a backrow of Peter O’Mahony, CJ Stander and Josh van der Flier while Iain Henderson won what Schmidt described as a long selection discussion to partner James Ryan at lock.

While still relatively young at 27, the 48 caps the Ulsterman has already racked up, together with his experience in big games at the last World Cup, gave him the edge over new boy Jean Kleyn. Schmidt said Kleyn would be allowed find his way into the tournament and feature later in some important ways.

With the potential for Friday’s sunshine in Yokohama to turn showery by Sunday and spoil Scotland’s fondness for throwing the ball around, Schmidt insisted that Ireland had as much to fear from the Scots kicking game if things get slippery.

“If Greig Laidlaw is at scrumhalf, he’s a very proficient kicker and when it does rain, points become that bit more valuable. We know Finn Russell has a huge variety of kicking game and there’s the length of Stuart Hogg’s kicking game too,” he said.

“I think in the end when you match it up for us with the likes of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton, I don’t think there’s too much between the teams, wet or dry.”

Ireland: 15-Jordan Larmour, 14-Andrew Conway, 13-Garry Ringrose, 12-Bundee Aki, 11-Jacob Stockdale, 10-Johnny Sexton, 9-Conor Murray, 8-CJ Stander, 7-Josh van der Flier, 6-Peter O’Mahony, 5-James Ryan, 4-Iain Henderson, 3-Tadhg Furlong, 2-Rory Best (captain), 1-Cian Healy

Replacements: 16-Niall Scannell, 17-Dave Kilcoyne, 18-Andrew Porter, 19-Tadhg Beirne, 20-Jack Conan, 21-Luke McGrath, 22-Jack Carty, 23-Chris Farrell.

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