Wallace strange out-half choice
Published 29/01/2010 | 05:00
And so it begins. Despite the appeals for calm from on high, a sense of heightened frenzy is beginning to sweep through Irish rugby as the first real business of the Grand Slam defence kicks off.
An 'A' match, in the picture-postcard setting of Bath on Sunday, hardly sets the pulses racing amongst the general public, but for the 22 on show and their legions of Irish supporters, every kick, pass and tackle will be analysed in high definition. Well, it is on Sky Sports.
"Anybody playing in that 'A' squad will be eligible and will be thought of for the following week, nothing has been ruled out," said Ireland manager Paul McNaughton.
His advice replicates that of the democratic Declan Kidney.
Try telling the players, though. Paddy Wallace might fear the worst. Yet again he is given 'game time' at No 10 -- unfortunately not against Danny Cipriani, who has been forced to withdraw due to a family bereavement.
It seems like a strange call, especially as Wallace is shining at 12 for Ulster and he may feel unfairly compromised in his personal battle with the in-form Gordon D'Arcy. That Ireland now have a genuine understudy at out-half further queers the pitch.
Where all of that that leaves Ian Humphreys, benched for this one, is another thing. Or perhaps Wallace may still make the squad for Italy next week, allowing Humphreys to play a full 80 minutes for the second string against Scotland on his home patch the day before.
All this speculation can drive you around in circles. What is clear is that Denis Hurley has failed to recover in time for the game from his leg injury, so Gavin Duffy, seemingly a perennial bolter since 2001, comes into the squad and starts the game at full-back.
Winger Johne Murphy, who was also named in the initial squad, is now unavailable and his place is taken by Fionn Carr, who starts on the right wing.
Marcus Horan and Rory Best start at prop and hooker respectively as they aim to increase their game time after recovering from injury. Peter Stringer completes the half-back partnership, who will be alongside Fergus McFadden and Keith Matthews in midfield.
Stringer is preferred to Isaac Boss, whose form far supersedes the Munster man, currently the incumbent replacement behind Tomas O'Leary.
Or has Eoin Reddan jumped the gun, even though Boss has been signed to challenge him? More headaches.
A back-row tussle between Ireland and England is always worth savouring; Ireland's internecine quarrel will be similarly enthralling as Sean O'Brien and Shane Jennings joust for favour as they seek a Six Nations bench role, the latter in an unusual blindside role.
Trying to second-guess Kidney is a mug's game at the best of times. Certainly, Ulster's exciting No 8 Chris Henry wouldn't dare, even if his omission has fuelled the debate about whether he is now officially the No 8 back-up for Jamie Heaslip.
"I found out I was in the senior squad by email," says Henry, whose keen interest in aviation mirrors another No 8 of distinction, Victor Costello. "I was a very surprised and a happy boy when I checked it.
"All year I've just tried to keep focused on the week to week and let everything else look after itself, but then it was great to check the email and find out that news. I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in the camp, learning as much as possible and just grabbing this opportunity with both hands.
"It's been a magical season, I've had so much fun and it's been pretty successful for us so far. I think we've made a lot of progress and we spoke about that at the start of the year. We have a very young and ambitious side here in Ulster.
"Everybody wants to keep driving forward and we've spoken about how if we keep doing well for Ulster, then that will lead eventually to selection further on to these Irish squads and teams. I'm delighted that Dan Tuohy and Declan Fitzpatrick have been brought in as well.
"Hopefully, we can bring more and more players into the Irish squad set-up.
"It's a massive credit to the squad, we're keeping each other on our toes and the coaches are getting the best of the players. It's really an enjoyable place to be and we're learning so much every week."
Northampton's Shane Geragthy, who flopped against Munster seven days ago when asked to play in an unfamiliar deep-lying role, will take Cipriani's place at out-half as England seek revenge for the crushing 49-22 Churchill Cup final defeat last summer.
Ireland 'A' (v England Saxons) -- G Duffy (Connacht); F Carr (Connacht), F McFadden (Leinster), K Matthews (Connacht), I Dowling (Munster); P Wallace (Ulster), P Stringer (Munster); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster), M O'Driscoll (Munster, captain) (capt), D Toner (Leinster), S Jennings (Leinster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Muldoon (Connacht). Reps: J Fogarty (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster), R Caldwell (Ulster), N Ronan (Munster), I Boss (Ulster), I Humphreys (Ulster), D Cave (Ulster).
ENGLAND SAXONS -- A Goode (Saracens); D Strettle (Harlequins, D Waldouck (Wasps), B Barritt, N Cato (both Saracens); S Geraghty (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester); N Wood (Gloucester), D Paice (London Irish) P Doran-Jones, D Attwood (both Gloucester), G Skivington (Wasps, capt), T Wood (Worcester), A Saull (Saracens), P Dowson (Northampton). Reps:T Mercey (Saracens), R Webber (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), M Young (Newcastle), J Clarke (Northampton), M Benjamin (Worcester).