Irish eyes unsmiling as catalogue of misfortune continues to build

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Ireland’s ill-fated RBS Six Nations campaign suffered a fresh setback yesterday when it was revealed forwards coach Gert Smal would take no further part in the championship.

A pre-existing eye condition which flared up this week has left Smal, assistant coach to the 2007 World Cup-winning Springboks, unable to continue.

Anthony Foley, who performs the same role for Munster and Irish Wolfhounds, will replace the 50-year-old South African, working alongside scrum coach Greg Feek.

“Unfortunately Gert fell ill earlier in the week,” said head coach Declan Kidney.

“He had a pre-existing eye condition from many years back. I don’t have full medical details but they are a private matter anyway.

“The medical advice given to us is that he needs rest and that he would not be with us for the rest of the championship.

“We have called in Anthony Foley and we have the blessing of Munster to do that.

“Gert is a very well-prepared man. It’s an unfortunate situation but the prep-work has been done so it won’t hinder us overly.”

Smal’s playing career, which included six caps, ended in 1993 when a blow to the left side of his face left him with impaired vision and forced him to retire.

The news is the latest event to have hindered a campaign that has already endured significant misfortune, despite being just one match old.

Three weeks ago Wales triumphed at Lansdowne Road with a last-minute penalty that a disciplinary hearing subsequently admitted had been awarded in error.

Six days later their trip to Paris was rendered a waste of time when the frozen Stade de France pitch was deemed unplayable – 10 minutes before kick-off.

Frustration levels continued to rise when the fixture was rescheduled for Sunday March 4 and not a day earlier, the option favoured by the Irish management.

It also means they face the extra burden of playing four matches in 22 days, starting with today’s clash with Italy at Aviva Stadium.

“It’s not ideal not having Gert around this week,” captain Paul O’Connell said.

“We’ve followed the regular pattern of the week, but we haven’t had him critiquing us like normal. We have tried to stay on top of it ourselves and monitor ourselves.

“But Anthony is an excellent coach and should be a good addition.”

Ireland last opened the championship with successive defeats in 1998, which was also the last year they ‘won’ the wooden spoon.