Kidney lays new foundations
IRELAND coach Declan Kidney announced a 44-man squad yesterday designed not only to cater for the upcoming Six Nations and 'A' game challenges but also picked with an eye on the next World Cup in New Zealand less than two years away.
There are nine uncapped players in the squad, with Ulster duo Declan Fitzpatrick (prop) and Dan Tuohy (second-row) representing the newest faces.
The other non-internationals named are Leinster's John Fogarty, Fergus McFadden, Kevin McLaughlin and Devin Toner, Ulster's Chris Henry, Connacht prop Brett Wilkinson and Leicester Tigers winger Johne Murphy.
Ulster hooker Rory Best is included after resuming contact training following neck surgery earlier this season, while Munster front-row pair Marcus Horan and Jerry Flannery are also named after their recent injury lay-offs.
There are four scrum-halves included with Peter Stringer, Isaac Boss and Eoin Reddan all present to contest the No 9 jersey with incumbent Tomas O'Leary, while Leinster pair Shane Jennings and Sean O'Brien provide openside cover behind Munster's David Wallace.
Leinster are narrow winners of the provincial representation contest with 16 players to Munster's 15, while Ulster's improved fortunes under Brian McLaughlin's coaching team is reflected by the fact that they have nine players included.
Hooker Sean Cronin and prop Brett Wilkinson are the two Connacht players named, while Murphy and Ospreys winger Tommy Bowe are the only overseas names in the squad.
With such a large panel, there are no notable omissions. Alan Quinlan has been in fine form in the Munster back-row, but the 35-year-old's failure to make the squad earlier in the season signposted the fact that he was unlikely to be part of Ireland's plans for 2010 and further on to the World Cup.
The squad will gather in Limerick next week for training before an 'A' squad is named next Tuesday for the match against the England Saxons in Bath on January 31, with additional players from outside the 44 to be brought in for that encounter.
"We had three main considerations, with the most important being the opening game against Italy, followed by the 'A' games and further down the line with the World Cup," said Kidney.
"Building a squad has always been a priority and the work done during the first half of the season means there is more experience accumulated than we had a couple of months ago. The provinces have all been in good form, making selection more competitive."