O'Gara in line to get nod for Paris
IT'S decision time for Ireland coach Declan Kidney, who names his team today for Saturday's pivotal Six Nations showdown with France in Paris.
Jonathan Sexton missed last weekend's 29-11 victory over Italy with a dead leg but is back in the mix for France and Kidney must now choose between the Leinster out-half and Munster's Ronan O'Gara, who kicked 16 points during an accomplished all-round display against the Italians.
With Paddy Wallace impressing off the bench last Saturday, it emphasises Ireland's strength in depth at out-half. The last time Kidney had to choose between O'Gara and Sexton, the Leinster man got the nod for the win over South Africa in November but Ireland's coach could well opt for the proven experience and quality of O'Gara against France.
Sexton performed very well against the Springboks and Kidney may want to see how he fares in the intensity of the Stade de France but the momentum is with his Munster rival after Italy.
Flanker Stephen Ferris and winger Andrew Trimble remain the greatest injury concerns.
The Ulster flanker has not been ruled out of selection but team manager Paul McNaughton said that, while Ferris has been able to put weight on his injured knee, "he hasn't run strongly on it yet". Like Sexton and second-row Donncha O'Callaghan, Ferris missed Ireland's opener while O'Gara, Trimble, Tomas O'Leary and Paul O'Connell all picked up knocks in that match.
However, McNaughton said they "were not ruling anyone out of selection for Paris" although Trimble's hamstring is "a bit of a worry".
If Trimble is unavailable, Keith Earls would be favourite to start on the left wing having played there against South Africa and off the bench last Saturday. Kevin McLaughlin won his debut in place of Ferris against Italy and came through well while O'Callaghan will be seeking to reclaim his place in the Ireland second-row after Leo Cullen impressed there last weekend.
France have named an unchanged 23-man squad following their 18-9 win over Scotland but have a major concern over winger Aurelien Rougerie.
Coach Marc Lievremont is also monitoring the fitness of right winger Benjamin Fall and prop Luc Ducalcon but Rougerie is the biggest worry.
If the Clermont Auvergne star is ruled out, it will be of little consolation to Ireland as Vincent Clerc is then likely to come into the side. Clerc has scored a remarkable seven tries in five outings against Ireland, including a hat-trick the last time the sides met in Paris in 2008 and the try that ultimately denied the Irish a Grand Slam in the first rugby match at Croke Park a year earlier.