BRIAN O’DRISCOLL CONFIRMED, this week, that he is definitely, positively retiring at the end of season. The news was hardly a bolt from the blue but means suitors for his Leinster, and Ireland, 13 jerseys will be closely watched over the coming months.
Fergus McFadden, who scored a hat-trick for Ireland against Canada during the summer, gets the start at outside centre for the RaboDirect Pro12 champions’ league opener against Scarlets on Friday [7.05pm].
McFadden is partnered in the Leinster midfield by a well rested Gordon D’Arcy. Dave Kearney starts at fullback while his brother, Rob, sees out his allotted time on the sidelines after a Lions tour of duty. Luke Fitzgerald, mooted as a possible outside centre option by new coach Matt O’Connor, is named on the left wing. It will be Fitzgerald’s first start since he injured his knee while playing against Italy for Ireland in the Six Nations.
Darragh Fanning, who has returned from a two-year stint of semi-professional rugby in Australia, gets the nod on the right wing after quelling George North’s attacking brusque for Northampton last weekend. Jimmy Gopperth makes his league debut at outhalf with experienced scrumhalf Eoin Reddan by his side.
Shane Jennings captains the side from openside flanker with Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy keeping him company in the back row. Mike McCarthy’s debut may have to come off the bench as Devin Toner and Tom Denton have been give starts in the second row. Hooker Sean Cronin will have two up-and-comers packing down alongside him in the front row. Jack McGrath starts at loosehead with Martin Moore in the tighthead role.
Lithe and large
Ulster coach Mark Anscombe has gone for a Luke Marshall-Chris Farrell centre combination that may prove a sign of times to come for a very long time up at Ravenhill. Marshall gets the nod as Ulster’s 13 du jour with Darren Cave on the bench.
Chris Farrell gets acquainted with Kevin McLaughlin and Mike Ross in 2011. (INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Jared Payne starts at fullback, with Andrew Trimble and David McIlwaine on the wings. Paddy Jackson and Paul Marshall are reunited as the half-back pairing.
Callum Black and Ricky Lutton start in the front row, either side of Rob Herring who is picked at hooker. Captain Johann Muller and Dan Tuohy are paired in the second row with Robbie Diack, Chris Henry and Roger Wilson making up the back row.
The province has confirmed that No.8 Nick Williams is not available for selection as he has returned to New Zealand for family reasons.
The Keatley Era
Munster coach Rob Penney has named Ian Keatley as his starting outhalf ahead of Saturday’s match [7:15pm] against Edinburgh at Musgrave Park. Duncan Williams gets the scrumhalf responsibilities and Ireland internationals Dave Kilcoyne [loosehead] and Tommy O’Donnell [flanker] are on the bench.
Ronan O’Mahony is rewarded for his pre-season hat-trick against London Irish with a spot on the right wing. James Coughlan will captain the team in the season’s opener.
LEINSTER XV (to play Scarlets): D Kearney; D Fanning, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Gopperth, E Reddan; J McGrath, S Cronin, M Moore; T Denton, D Toner; R Ruddock, S Jennings (c), J Murphy.
Replacements: A Dundon, J O’Connell, M Ross, M McCarthy, D Ryan, I Boss, N Reid, B Macken.
ULSTER XV (to play Dragons): J Payne, A Trimble, L Marshall, C Farrell, D McIlwaine, P Jackson, P Marshall; C Black, R Herring, R Lutton, J Muller (c), D Tuohy, R Diack, C Henry, R Wilson.
Replacements: N Annett, T Court, D Fitzpatrick, L Stevenson, S Doyle, I Porter, J McKinney, D Cave.
MUNSTER XV (to play Edinburgh): D Hurley; R O’Mahony, C Laulala, I Dineen, J Murphy; I Keatley, D Williams; J Cronin, M Sherry, S Archer; D Foley, Do. O’Callaghan; D O’Callaghan, S Dougall, J Coughlan (c).
Replacements: D Varley, D Kilcoyne, J Ryan, B Holland, T O’Donnell, C Sheridan, JJ Hanrahan, C Bohane.
Both matches take place on Friday evening. Ulster are available on the BBC red button while Leinster can be viewed on rte.ie.