Through his squad selection for Ireland’s opening International against South Africa, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has proved that he is a man willing to take risks in order to continue the development of his side before the Rugby World Cup.
With the inclusion of Leinster’s Jonathon Sexton at fly half, Kidney has not only shown faith in a player maligned last season for under-performing, he has taken the right decision to give him the platform to grow into the international game. Similarly, his choice of Tony Buckley at tighthead prop instead of labouring on with John Hayes clearly proves the Ireland coach has his sights firmly set on the future.
Apart from perhaps the inclusion of Mick O’Driscoll, this is a quality Irish side that can rival the Springboks man for man with Brian O’Driscoll returning after four weeks out with a hamstring injury to captain a strong side. A disappointing absentee is Devin Toner, who I think warranted a place on the bench at least, but overall, Irish supporters can have few complaints.
Leinster players dominate the starting line up with eight of the fifteen hailing from Dublin, and the province is particularly prevalent in the backline.
Sexton is partnered at half-back by club teammate Eoin Reddan, while Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll continue their longstanding partnership at inside and outside centre respectively. The Leinster saturation in the backline is broken by the inclusion of Tommy Bowe on the wing, who is accompanied in the back three by Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is making his first international appearance since last year’s November clash with Australia when he suffered a season-ending injury, which has kept him out of action until the start of this season.
The Irish pack boasts few surprises as Kidney looks for solidity from the players that haven’t let him down so far. The ever-present Jamie Heaslip is joined in the back row by David Wallace and Stephen Ferris. In front of them is an all-Munster second row that comprises the first choice Donncha O’Callaghan and Mick O’Driscoll in for the injured Paul O’Connell.
With regards to the replacements, a decision is yet to be made on who will take the final place in the match day squad. Keith Earls, Andrew Timble and Paddy Wallace are all in the reckoning for the No.22 jersey.
The Springboks’ preparations for their upcoming tour has been hit in recent weeks with a spate of withdrawals. Key players such as John Smit, Fourie du Preez, Heinrich Brussow and Schalk Burger are some of the notable players absent, and this fixture represents a real chance for Ireland.
Saturday’s game is a real opportunity for this side to take a Southern Hemisphere scalp, rebuild their confidence and reestablish themselves as a force on the world stage.
15 – Rob Kearney (Leinster)
14 – Tommy Bowe (Ospreys)
13 – Brian O’Driscoll (Leinster) CAPTAIN
12 – Gordon D’Arcy (Leinster)
11 – Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster)
10 – Jonathan Sexton (Leinster)
9 – Eoin Reddan (Leinster)
1 – Cian Healy (Leinster)
2 – Rory Best (Ulster)
3 – Tony Buckley (Munster)
4 – Donncha O’Callaghan (Munster)
5 – Mick O’Driscoll (Munster)
6 – Stephen Ferris (Ulster)
7 – David Wallace (Munster)
8 – Jamie Heaslip (Leinster)
16 – Sean Cronin (Connacht)
17 – Tom Court (Ulster)
18 – Donnacha Ryan (Munster)
19 – Denis Leamy (Munster)
20 – Peter Stringer (Munster)
21 – Ronan O’Gara (Munster)
22 – Keith Earls (Munster) / Andrew Trimble (Ulster) / Paddy Wallace (Ulster)
By Killian Woods