PREPARATIONS for Brian O'Driscoll's final Six Nations campaign stepped up yesterday as Joe Schmidt named a 44-man extended squad that included seven new faces for the Championship.
Tommy Bowe, Simon Zebo, Craig Gilroy and Donnacha Ryan have all been left out of the initial panel as they bid to prove their fitness.
The four established internationals were among a group of seven players -- the others are Declan Fitzpatrick, Richardt Strauss and Roger Wilson -- who will remain with their provinces to get further time to recover or game time after injury.
However, Fergus McFadden, Rory Best and Cian Healy did make the cut despite their long stints out with injury.
That trio could well feature in the Wolfhounds clash with England Saxons on Saturday week, while the battle to replace Sean O'Brien will be between Chris Henry, Tommy O'Donnell and the uncapped Jordi Murphy, who is named in the senior squad for the first time.
The in-form Leinster tyro is one of the seven uncapped players in the squad as Schmidt includes three players who qualify for Ireland through residency, with New Zealand-born Connacht tighthead Rodney Ah You and Ulster's South African pair Rob Herring and Robbie Diack all named for the first time.
Kevin McLaughlin, Donncha O'Callaghan, Shane Jennings and James Coughlan are all left out, despite their involvement in November, while Leicester's Niall Morris and Grenoble's James Hart were also left disappointed.
"A number of the selections were very tight. There is an experienced core of players in the squad who will offer continuity, as well as some new additions who have been selected with an eye to the future," Schmidt said.
"With Robin Copeland returning to play in Ireland next season it will be an opportunity for him to impress during the training week, while some of the younger or less experienced players such as Rob Herring, Iain Henderson, Rhys Ruddock, Kieran Marmion and Felix Jones have turned in some very positive performances to earn spots in the squad."