THERE WAS NOT much scope for excitement ahead of Declan Kidney’s team announcement this afternoon.
The only questions that needed answering concerned Ireland’s wingers, a back-up to Mike Ross and whether Chris Henry could retain his place at blindside flanker.
Kidney answered two of those questions – Declan Fitzpatrick and ‘no’ [Peter O'Mahony starts at blindside] – and injected some pizzazz by selecting a back three of Rob Kearney, Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo.
Combine the best of this trio and you have a tantalising backline that will include the old-stagers Brian O’Driscoll and Gordon D’Arcy, who start in green for the world-record 48th time.
The safe bets on either wings may have been Fergus McFadden and Keith Earls but Kidney is in the mood for a punt.
It was suggested to Kidney that Earls’ versatility meant he could cover five positions across the backline but, tellingly, Kidney pointed out that he has been selected primarily as a back-up centre.
The last time the Irish coach spoke with such relish about a line-up was before the First Test against New Zealand in Auckland. Ireland lost 42-10.
His side is in a much better place, physically and mentally, since last summer and both Zebo and Gilroy were screaming out for starts. This attacking XV promises much.
Jamie Heaslip walks into the team announcement as TheScore.ie stealthily deposits a dictaphone. (©INPHO/Billy Stickland)
Memories of three Welsh reversals are still fresh and there is a very real possibility that Rob Howley could name wing behemoths Alex Cuthbert and George North – a duo that made hay at the Aviva last year.
Kidney told TheScore.ie, “All our backs are pretty much the same size… Simon’s a good height and Craig has a good leap on him. If I had picked another side it would be to counteract what they were doing.”
Irish rugby supporters will be praying that height and leaps are combined with sturdy defence.
Ulster gets short shrift
There is no denying the fact that this tie against Wales game will be the making or breaking of Ireland’s championship pretensions.
To get that positive start, the eight Leinster players in the starting line-up will need to set aside provincial disappointment and the upheaval caused by Jonny Sexton’s French move.
Ireland captain Jamie Heaslip remarked that, captaincy or not, Brian O’Driscoll will be sure to stand up before the Wales game and say his piece. Leinster players, and Lions hopefuls, like O’Driscoll, Kearney and Heaslip will have a point to prove.
While Earls and McFadden may be disappointed at their demotions, Chris Henry is the most unfortunate of the players named to the replacements bench.
He has been in excellent form for Ulster this season and did a fine job at openside in the November Series.
The consolation for high-flying Ulster, apart from the selection of Gilroy and hooker Rory Best, comes with the inclusion of Declan Fitzpatrick on the bench.
One suspects, however, that his call-up is more down to the grim night suffered by Michael Bent in Galway last Friday.
The pairing that almost slipped under the radar is Mike McCarthy and Donnacha Ryan. They are about to play their first Six Nations match together but have taken so seamlessly to international rugby that Ireland are looking at them as a clear plus over an injury-ravaged Welsh second row.
The selection of Zebo and Gilroy has given cause for optimism but we have been here before and Wales are not a weary bunch of Argentines, no matter what their recent run of results may suggest.