Cullen and O’Gara axed for England showdown as Kidney makes tough call ahead of crucial weekend
IRELAND coach Declan Kidney yesterday made a brave selection for Saturday's crucial Six Nations clash against England in Twickenham by dropping second-row Leo Cullen and out-half Ronan O'Gara in the wake of the team's heavy defeat to France.
Geordan Murphy returns for his first Ireland start since November 2008 as Kidney makes four changes, two enforced, to the side that suffered a 33-10 loss in Paris in their last outing. Murphy comes in for the injured Rob Kearney at full-back while Rory Best slots in at hooker in place of Jerry Flannery, who is serving a six-week suspension for kicking French winger Alexis Palisson.
But it was the selection of Donncha O'Callaghan ahead of in-form Leinster captain Cullen which caused the greatest debate yesterday.
O'Callaghan's credentials ahead of his 59th cap are not in question but a knee injury has kept the second row out of action for over a month and he was expected to start on the bench as Cullen has performed extremely well in his absence against Italy and France.
Kidney admitted it was a big call to drop Cullen, who he praised for his performances in the first two games, but said he has been delighted with how O'Callaghan has been training and said it is the "right mix for this game".
The Ireland coach added that the call at out-half had been equally tight and reiterated how fortunate Ireland were to have access to two top quality out-halves.
"To leave someone like Rog out is not an easy call on him, with the wealth of experience and the knowledge that he has," said Kidney. "We just felt it was right to give Jonathan this go. We're trying to build a squad."
Sean Cronin gets the nod to take Best's place among the replacements where Cullen takes the place of the injured Donnacha Ryan while Andrew Trimble comes onto the bench in place of Ulster team-mate Paddy Wallace.
The surprise move here was the elevation of Tony Buckley ahead of Tom Court as substitute prop as Court has impressed for Ulster and off the bench for Ireland this season.
John Hayes will become the first Irish player to win 100 caps when he runs out in Twickenham and the 36-year-old Cappamore man said yesterday that his appetite for the game is as strong as ever and that he would love to play on until the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand where he spent a season in the mid-1990s.
"It would be nice," said Hayes. "I still have a lot of friends there, it's a great country that really helped me along the way."