Kidney gamble sees O’Gara on bench for crucial Scots tie
IN what looks like being a sensational team selection, Ulster's Paddy Jackson and Luke Marshall will make their senior Ireland debuts against Scotland on Sunday, with Ronan O'Gara left on the bench.
Ireland coach Declan Kidney is preparing to take the biggest gamble of his career by confining O'Gara and his 127 international caps to the bench and opt for the untried, unproven and inexperienced Jackson in the pivotal out-half berth.
It is a monumental move by Kidney and one that is sure to send shockwaves across Irish rugby.
Jackson's international experience is limited to U-20 level, while he did feature for Ireland in the non-capped game against Fiji in November and also represented the Ireland Wolfhounds against the England Saxons in January.
The 21-year-old out-half only made his senior debut with Ulster in 2011, although he did force his way into their first team towards the end of last season and made the starting line-up for the Heineken Cup semi-final and final.
Jackson will be joined in the starting line-up by his 22-year-old Ulster colleague, centre Luke Marshall, who will take over from the stricken Gordon D'Arcy and form a potentially lethal partnership with Brian O'Driscoll.
There had been fears that Marshall had joined an ever increasing list of casualties when he had to be helped from the pitch during Ulster's win over Zebre on Friday night. Mercifully that injury proved to be no more serious than bruising to his thighs.
He is expected to be one of five Ulster players included when Declan Kidney announces his starting team.
Loosehead prop Tom Court is expected to be a surprise inclusion alongside his provincial team-mate, hooker Rory Best, in the front-row.
Munster's Dave Kilcoyne had been the favourite to replace the suspended Cian Healy as he had been on the bench against Wales and England but Court's scrummaging skills are expected to see him win the day.
Craig Gilroy will continue on the right wing with Keith Earls coming into the side on the left in place of the injured Simon Zebo, who is recovering in Cork from an operation to repair the broken bone in his foot.
In all, Kidney has to make five changes to his starting team as Ireland are experiencing a hugely debilitating casualty crisis. Connacht's Mike McCarthy is also out of commission after sustaining ligament damage. His place will be taken by Munster's Donncha O'Callaghan, who will add to his 92 senior caps when he starts alongside Donnacha Ryan.
Meanwhile, French media yesterday confirmed that Jonathan Sexton has signed for Racing Metro.
The report claims that the Ireland out-half has signed a two-year contract with the option of a third and will earn roughly €600,000 per annum with the Paris club.
Ireland (probable v Scotland) – R Kearney; C Gilroy, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, K Earls; P Jackson, C Murray; T Court, R Best, M Ross; D O'Callaghan, D Ryan; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.