DECLAN KIDNEY WILL name his extended Ireland squad this morning, from 10am, to contest the 2013 Six Nations.
The Ireland coach is contracted with the IRFU until June 2013, following the two-match tour of America and Canada, so this could be the last time he makes such an announcement.
Amid the Heineken Cup drama, Lions tour talk and Irish players getting tempted with whopping French salaries, thoughts of the international team have been placed on the backburner.
We aim to get you up to speed thanks to three simple headings.
Ireland finished third in last season’s Six Nations and entered the final game against England, on St Patrick’s Day, ruing a 17-17 draw in France and looking at Wales, getting ready for their Grand Slam decider, with a tinge of envy after a controversial 23-21 home defeat.
Green pretensions of being hard done by were blown out of the water as the Irish scrum was savaged by the English at Twickenham.
An excellent display in freezing Christchurch was bookended by two large defeats. The Third Test saw Ireland fall to their worst ever international loss — Aaron Cruden, Hosea Gear and Sonny Bill Williams lapped up our woefulness in a 60-0 blitzing.
The losing run was extended to five games when Ireland squandered a good first half, and new captain Jamie Heaslip saw yellow, to fall 16-12 to South Africa.
Fiji arrived at just the right time and an Ireland XV gave a glimpse of the future that changed to a satisfying gawk as we destroyed Argentina 46-24.
What to expect
Very little has changed in terms of playing staff, dips of form or individuals running amok in the Heineken Cup since the squad broke up in late November.
Kidney will not rock the boat too much in his squad selection and will avoid many tough questions by naming a Wolfhounds team that will take on the England Saxons in February.
Fist-bumping buddies: Heaslip and Zebo. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Since the November Series, players such as Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Sean O’Brien and Rory Best have returned to action so expect to see their names on the long-list.
Tommy Bowe has succumbed to a knee injury and looks likely to miss the entire campaign through injury but Stephen Ferris, despite a nebulous return date, should make the cut. Paul O’Connell may not return to action until April.
A little surprise?
One issue that will be resolved, until the possible arrival of a new coach and fresh regime in the summer, is the Ireland captaincy.
Jamie Heaslip often speaks of the Ireland jersey not being a player’s to own but something that one has to go out and do proud before returning it to the dressing room hook.
He hardly excelled as Ireland captain in his three-game stint but Kidney should stick with him for the Six Nations and allow O’Driscoll the time and space he needs to plan an ultimate assault on Grand Slam glory.
The talking points from this morning’s squad announcements may come from the return of a player not seen since August 2011 at Lansdowne Road – Luke Fitzgerald.
The versatile Leinster back is two games into his comeback from his neck injury but was man-of-the-match against Scarlets in the Heineken Cup and can cover three or four backline positions.
Other questions that may be resolved involve the international futures of Sean Cronin and Declan Fitzpatrick, Chris Henry’s chances of retaining a starting role, and the level of involvement Ulster out-half Paddy Jackson may have, especially if Ronan O’Gara is cited and suspended for three or four weeks.