The summer rugby tours of our home nations are set to kick off this weekend. Ireland, England and Wales all travel to the Super Rugby nations of South Africa, Australia and New Zealand respectively, while Scotland take on the emerging far eastern power that is Japan.
As final match day squads are being formed, let’s take a look at the XV players that would have started for their country if it was not for the curse of injury.
Prop – Cian Healy
Stood down by Leinster and Ireland in recent weeks following persistent issues stemming from neck surgery last year, in addition to ongoing knee issues, Healy has featured only sparingly this season and looks set to be wrapped in cotton wool for the summer as the IRFU attempt to finally overcome the props long injury layoff.
Second Row – Peter O’Mahony
One of Ireland’s high profile casualties of an attritional Rugby World Cup campaign, O’Mahony suffered a serious ACL injury which end his season all the way back in October. Early hopes were the Munster captain would return in April; however, this has not been the case and the hope now is that he will be fit and ready for the new season after the summer.
Second Row – Mike McCarthy
McCarthy, like Healy, was stood down by the IRFU following a very significant concussion suffered during Ireland’s Six Nations match with France back in the Spring. McCarthy was given the rest of the season off in order to fully recover.
Flanker – Sean O’Brien
O’Brien and his hamstring issues are becoming something of a worry. Having now been curtailed for much of the last 18 months and last appearing for a mere 20 minutes against France in the Six Nations this season, the fear among fans is not about when he will return but rather if he will return.
Flanker – Dan Lydiate, Justin Tipuric
A shoulder injury during Wales’ defeat to England last weekend put an end to the stand-in captain’s participation of his country’s tour of New Zealand. Instead, shoulder surgery and the looming recovery awaits the Ospreys flanker in the off season.
Tipuric, another Wales flanker, has failed to recover from a concussion suffered in Wales’ Six Nations clash with Italy. Like Ireland’s Mike McCarthy, the player has been given an extended layoff in order to fully recover.
You cannot underestimate the importance of Jonathan Sexton to this @IrishRugby team.
Huge blow he’s been ruled out of the South Africa tour
— James Tennant (@_jameslt) June 2, 2016
Fly Half – Jonathan Sexton
An ongoing shoulder problem has finally forced Sexton to undergo surgery instead of hopping on the plane to South Africa with the rest of the Irish squad. While it was an ailment, it could have been managed for the summer tour but a specialist recommended action so the decision was take to heed the medical advice.
Wing – Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney
Yet another injury for Fitzgerald – this time a knee injury – sees the Leinster man left out of another Ireland campaign. Probably Ireland’s most unlucky player, the Leinster man had overcome persistent injuries to battle his way back into contention during the Pro 12 season, only for injury to once again rob him of his place in the touring squad this summer.
Kearney has enjoyed mixed success on the wing for Ireland this season as injuries have curtailed his playing time. A recent calf injury has cost him his place on the plane for South Africa.
Centre – Manu Tuilagi
The England wrecking ball suffered a hamstring tear during Leicester’s Aviva Premiership semi-final defeat to Saracens. The injury has ruled him out of England’s summer tour to Australia, a significant loss to Eddie Jones’ Six Nations champions.
Centre – Corey Allen
Having recovered from a hamstring tear suffered at the Rugby World Cup, Allen’s season ended early when he wrecked his ankle ligaments during a Pro 12 clash with Leinster.
Wing – Tommy Bowe, Alex Cuthbert
Bowe has not featured for province or country since last year’s Rugby World Cup where a serious knee injury threatened to end his career. With rehabilitation ongoing, it is hoped the Ulster flier will return in the new season.
Cuthbert has been out of action since early this season following a knee injury and surgery in March, the winger also ruled out of Wales’ trip south this summer.
Full Back – Rob Kearney, Leigh Halfpenny
Following a season of injuries, Kearney made his return for the Pro 12 final against Connacht and though rusty, his experience saw him selected by Joe Schmidt for the South Africa tour. However, a hamstring complaint has now ruled him out of any further action until next season.
Halfpenny has been absent since he suffered a serious knee injury during a World Cup warm-up game against Italy last year. Yet to return fully to play, his absence remains a headache for Warren Gatland as his side takes on the All Blacks in New Zealand.
On review of the XV injury list, it is shocking to see that Ireland can boast some nine players who would, when fit, be starters for Ireland in South Africa. Wales have suffered from significant injuries also, with five players ruled out of their tour of New Zealand, while questions still remain over the fitness and match readiness of captain Sam Warburton.
England have, with the exception of Tuilagi, avoided the injury hex that the Celtic countries have been enduring all season and coach Eddie Jones has the luxury of a full strength squad to chose from for their tour of Australia.
While Scotland have been omitted from the XV selection, their own tour of Japan this summer sees them without the influential duo of Finn Russell (head) and Tim Visser (knee). The expectation is, however, that while Japan managed to claim the scalp of South Africa at last year’s Rugby World Cup, Scotland will be too strong for the host nation – even considering the loss of Visser and Russell.
The action kicks off for all touring nations this weekend and while fans might lament the lengthy injury woes suffered by their respective country, you can be sure the players themselves will be fully focused on the task of winning away from home, make shift side or not.
Gary Brennan, Pundit Arena
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