Ireland vs Wales is set to be a cracking curtain-raiser for what everyone hopes will be a Six Nations to remember. On Tuesday, Declan Kidney, head coach of Ireland, announced the team that would start for the men in green.
The announcement has been met with mixed reactions. In the past, he has been guilty of some overly-conservative selections, and this time he seems to be finally learning his lesson - to a certain extent.
The most intriguing selection comes on the wings. With Tommy Bowe injured, and Luke Fitzgerald returning to fitness after a long injury lay-off, there was always scope for new players to come in and make a mark. As it is, Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, two men relatively inexperienced on the international stage, have been selected.
Gilroy is a young Ulster flyer, who rose to prominence in the autumn with a hat-trick for an Ireland XV in a non-capped game against Fiji, and then scored on his full debut the week after against Argentina. He has been in fine form for Ulster, a province whose players in the past have perhaps been slightly neglected, and keen observers of European rugby will remember his dazzling solo score in the Heineken Cup quarter final last year against Munster.
Since then he has gone from strength-to-strength, and his selection ahead of the more conservative Keith Earls will be a relief to many an Irishman - and not just those from north of the border.
On the other wing is Zebo of Munster. Again this is a bold selection, although perhaps less so given his impressive autumn form for the national side. Still, shoving Fitzgerald in while still coming back from injury would have been a tempting option for Kidney, and one he was right to ignore. Fitzgerald doesn't even make the squad, but will add valuable strength in depth when he returns.
Zebo has bags of pace and is a potent finisher. He filled in a full-back over the autumn, but has excelled most when in his preferred spot on the wing. His most recent heroics came in the final round of the Heineken Cup, scoring a breathtaking hat-trick and thus almost single-handedly securing knockout rugby for his province.
So Kidney's selection on the wings is promising. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the back-row.
Even leaving out the debate as to whether you need a 'genuine' open side flanker in your team, the form back-row player in Ireland has been ignored. Chris Henry, of Ulster, can count himself highly unlucky to start on the bench at the weekend, given that he has been at the top of his game recently for his province.
Peter O'Mahoney has been selected on the blind side, and despite being in decent form for Munster, he surely hasn't done enough to keep Henry out of the team. It is likely that he has been selected in order to keep Sean O'Brien in his preferred position on the open side, but even this is a debatable decision. O'Brien is more than capable of playing across the back row, and should have been shifted across to the blind side to accommodate Henry. O'Mahoney is a man who could have provided impact off the bench; Henry is a man who has the qualities to impact a game from the word go.
In many ways, this is reminiscent of the back-row situation in Wales. For at least a year now, fans have been calling for young Justin Tipuric to be given a go ahead of Sam Warburton, who was rather living off past glories. Most pundits are predicting that this Six Nations he will finally get his chance to start, with Warburton moving across to accommodate him. Let's hope Ireland come to their senses sooner than Wales did and don't keep one of their best players on the bench for too long.
- Sports & Recreation
- Declan Kidney
- Luke Fitzgerald