Declan Kidney’s hand may have been forced but his decision to include Paddy Jackson at out-half has reinvigorated my interest in Sunday’s Scotland clash.
Since the 2009 Grand Slam heroics Kidney has been pilloried for his conservative approach and tendency to stick with the tried and trusted.
When we played Scotland in the Six Nations in 2000 the introduction of Ronan O’Gara, Shane Horgan, Peter Stringer and John Hayes heralded a new age for Irish rugby. Isn’t it be nice to hope that Sunday could be similar?
On Sunday Ulster’s rising stars Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall will be unleashed upon the RBS Six Nations and I can’t wait to see what they bring.
Against Fiji in November (granted Fiji are not the greatest opposition) both Jackson and Marshall delighted and enthralled in equal measure with the way they flung themselves into battle with abandon.
Along with the likes of Zebo on that night in Thomond we were given a taste of what was to come in Irish rugby and were left with an insatiable appetite for more.
Injury to Tommy Bowe guaranteed Zebo’s start and the trickery and bewilderment that followed at the Millennium Stadium on Matchday One, fingers-crossed Jackson and Marshall can capitlise equally as effectively in the absence of Messers D’Arcy and Sexton.
We are currently in the second year of a four-year World Cup cycle and this is the opportune time to blood new talent. England and Lancaster are doing it with Farrell, Twelvetrees, Goode, Parling and co, and so should we.
If Declan Kidney wants his contract renewed he has to look at lot further into the future than Sunday at 3pm and his bold team selection suggests he is doing that and should be applauded for it.
Many have pointed out that the biggest game of Paddy Jackson’s career(the Heineken Cup final last May) didn’t go so well for the red-haired fly-half but that was nine months ago, an ocean of time in a fledgling rugby career.
Jackson has come on leaps and bounds since then. He has marshalled the Ulster back-line expertly this season and helped them top their Heineken Cup pool and the summit of the Rabodirect Pro12.
He has been aided by the fact that he has one of the world’s best scrum-halves inside him in Ruan Pienaar and club rugby, even Heineken Cup rugby, bears no comparison to international standards but that is precisely why he must play.
Doubts over his place-kicking persist and anything beyond the 10-metre line should be outside his range and that is a drawback.
Sunday will be a real litmus test for this temperament and tenacity and the white heat of Six Nations is best platform on which is talent can get a serious examination.
O’Gara turns 36 next month and is without one of the greatest ever servants of Irish rugby and unquestionably the best player in the history of the Heineken Cup but he looks exposed.
For Ireland currently he will serve us best as a composed and uplifting impact man from the bench.
The Grand Slam is gone, the Triple Crown is lost, the Championship is out of our hands(for the moment). Now is the time to embrace the kind of exuberance and fearlessness that Zebo has shown and look to the future.