McLaughlin gives Kidney's options a lift
Kevin McLaughlin has been brought in to the Ireland squad ahead of next weekend's clash with Wales in Cardiff, while Tomas O'Leary returns after missing the win over Scotland.
McLaughlin won his solitary cap against Italy last season and missed the first half of this season through injury. However, the 6' 4" Leinster flanker has five 80-minute performances under his belt since January and could be ready for a return to international duty with his line-out ability a bonus to a match-day squad that has struggled with a third option out of touch.
Also among the 12 additions to the 22 that togged out against Scotland is Rhys Ruddock, part of an impressive back-row performance alongside McLaughlin and Dominic Ryan in Leinster's win over the Scarlets on Friday and another player with back of the line-out proficiency.
O'Leary has recovered from the back problems that ruled him out of the Scotland game as Ireland report "no major injury concerns," which suggests Leinster second-row Leo Cullen's groin problem that forced him off early on Friday is not as serious as first feared.
However, there is no room for Isaac Boss, one of the stars of Leinster's win over the Scarlets, and the scrum-half slot is a shoot-out between O'Leary, Peter Stringer and the in-form man in possession Eoin Reddan.
Fergus McFadden played well in Tommy Bowe's absence in the first two Six Nations outings and is another player looking for a way back into Declan Kidney's match-day 22 after a superb showing for Leinster on Friday. McFadden's ability to play centre or wing strengthens his case for inclusion on the bench, while Ulster's Andrew Trimble has similar qualifications.
Mick O'Driscoll was Munster's man- of-the-match in Saturday's win over the Dragons and has also been drafted in alongside club-mates Donnacha Ryan, Tony Buckley, Johne Murphy and Leinster's Devin Toner.
Connacht have forward Mike McCarthy and full-back Gavin Duffy included among the 12, with Duffy a candidate for full-back selection given his proficiency under the high ball, an area where Ireland have struggled in the absence of Rob Kearney.
Wales expect to have centre Jonathan Davies available for this clash after missing the nervy win over Italy with a hamstring injury, while Lions prop Adam Jones came through his return from an elbow injury with the Ospreys unscathed on Saturday.
There have been calls in Wales for Warren Gatland to start James Hook at out-half in place of Stephen Jones.
The Welsh have a powerful line-out with Bradley Davies, Alun-Wyn Jones and Ryan Jones all over 6' 5" and Kidney now has options to match them, even though the strong performance of the Irish back-row may only mean a spot on the bench if he opts for McLaughlin or Ruddock.