Consistent Coughlan fails to make Kidney's final cut
DECLAN KIDNEY again showcased his ability to surprise when a 33-man training camp for this week's preparations was announced.
That number will be whittled down to a more manageable 23-man match-day squad (plus two alternatives) at lunchtime tomorrow. It had been expected that 30 names would be announced yesterday and no explanation has been forthcoming regarding the extra three.
Eleven of the 23 players who were on duty with the vanquished Irish Wolfhounds in Galway on Friday night have been included this week, but it is those who have not been kept on who are the most noteworthy.
A major surprise – along with Kidney's decision to exclude Ulster's Andrew Trimble – is the absence of the Wolfhounds captain James Coughlan, who has been remarkably consistent for several seasons with Munster. What more could he do to, as the coach likes to put it, "put his hand up for selection"?
The Wolfhounds back-row, where Coughlan was partnered by Tommy O'Donnell and Kevin McLaughlin, was very impressive against England but Leinster's McLaughlin is the only one of the three called back to camp, which is an astonishing decision.
It is no less surprising that Devin Toner has been called back, given he has never convinced on the Heineken Cup stage with Leinster, not to mind the international one in his three appearances to date.
There are three specialist second-rows included in the squad, while it is likely Iain Henderson and McLaughlin are covering back-row and second-row, making Toner's presence all the more surprising.
It was always likely that Michael Bent was going to keep his place in the squad. But the savaging he received in Galway was reminiscent of the battering he took when lining out for Leinster against Connacht and Ulster over Christmas.
He looked out of his depth in the Wolfhounds game and there will be novenas offered up if he is on the bench against Wales on Saturday.
The IRB rules now allow for three front-row replacements to be included in the match-day 23. Ireland's loosehead replacement on Saturday is likely to be Dave Kilcoyne, which won't cause any hearts to flutter.
The thought of Bent being on the bench and called into action, however, is a nightmare scenario similar to that experienced in Twickenham last season when Tom Court was introduced out of position.
On Friday Kidney tried to imply that Bent will benefit from the game-time afforded him but there was a hollow sound to the words. Bent's fast-tracking to international rugby has left no one in the IRFU in credit and has actually been unfair on the player himself.
There is, though, a feel-good factor to the selection and that is in the inclusion of Luke Fitzgerald after what must have been a terribly difficult and, at times, frightening 2012 for the former Lions player.
Any kind of surgery is a cause of concern but when you undergo neck surgery and your profession is rugby player, that fear must be magnified. Fitzgerald's return to Leinster's blue and Ireland's green will have been welcomed by all Irish rugby supporters.
He is unlikely to be included in the pared down 23-man squad Kidney will reveal at lunchtime tomorrow but the month of January has been a successful first step back to prominence for Fitzgerald and he will benefit from the week's training.
The other encouraging selection is that of Connacht's Dave McSharry. The Leinster Academy graduate is a talent perfectly in keeping with the type of exciting young player Kidney introduced to the international scene in November.
His presence along with the likes of Craig Gilroy, Henderson and Simon Zebo highlights the coach's determination to fashion a new-look team beyond this season.