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Horan pick signals Six Nations aim

Ireland A, soon to be renamed the Irish Wolfhounds, will have to summon the bite to deal with the England Saxons at Bath's Recreation Ground tomorrow afternoon (Live 2.0 Sky Sports).

At the moment, the value of the Ireland 'A' set-up can be measured by the fact that Jonathan Sexton and Cian Healy have already moved on from that momentous Churchill Cup final domination of the Saxons to claim their Ireland places.

There are four members of the Churchill chargers that remain in the centre -- Keith Matthews and Fergus McFadden, tight-head Tony Buckley and lock Devin Toner -- from that day in Denver when the previously all-conquering Saxons were stripped of their decency.

There is the additional interest of Ireland coach Declan Kidney's decision to use this outing as a basis for bringing Marcus Horan and Rory Best back up to speed for what could be important contributions to the Six Nations.

Weirdly, Best wrenched his neck getting out of a shower. A simple accident was thought, at one point, to be the downfall of the rest of his career, such was the concern over an innocuous incident.

Ulster's Best has battled back to something approaching full fitness as Leinster's John Fogarty and Connacht's Sean Cronin have moved in on his patch to challenge the often-injured Jerry Flannery.



ballast

Neither man is proven at the highest level. Best is a more traditional set-piece No2 than Flannery, bringing a great deal of ballast to the scrum and accuracy at the lineout.

Munster's Marcus Horan would be the first to admit how quickly the game moves on when you are not right smack in the middle of it. A minor heart ailment forced him away from the game last October.

"I suppose I wondered whether I might ever get the chance to play again. Had that been the case, it would have been disappointing because when I retire I want it to be on my own terms," he said this week.

Horan had to handle the fear of losing his livelihood, the fear of being disconnected from Munster and Ireland. He also had to look on as Leinster's Cian Healy emphatically nailed down the loose-head position. He wants the green jersey back.

The most interesting selection is that of Paddy Wallace at out-half. It must have a bad knock-on effect for either Ronan O'Gara or Jonathan Sexton. Logically, Kidney could be considering Wallace as cover at centre and fly-half for the Six Nations, leaving O'Gara or Sexton surplus to requirements.

No doubt, Saxons coach Stuart Lancaster is still smarting from the 49-22 wipeout his players experienced last June. He has waited long enough in the long grass.

"We are really looking forward to Sunday. We have a young squad full of quality players and a good mix of experience. I'm sure they will rise to a challenging Ireland 'A' squad," he said.

"Bath have a passionate and loyal fanbase and we hope to see as many of them as possible out on Sunday cheering us on and watching this exciting group of players in action."

England will thrive on the vocal support of the rugby-mad cathedral city.

The problem is that Lancaster has not included a single Bath player in his squad in what would have been a smart move in order to whip up more fervent support. The withdrawal of the controversial Danny Cipriani, due to a family bereavement, has taken some of the gloss out of the game. Former Ireland target Shane Geraghty and ex-Dublin University and Lansdowne tight-head Paul Doran Jones will have a special interest in seeing Ireland subdued.

There are experienced players on board in the shape of captain George Skivington, Phil Dowson, Dominic Waldouck and David Strettle. They also have four holding a hangover from Denver in Phil Dowson and backs Noah Cato, Brad Barritt and Dominic Waldouck.

England Saxons: A Goode; D Strettle, D Waldouck, B Barritt, N Cato; S Geraghty, B Youngs; N Wood, D Paice, P Doran-Jones, D Attwood, G Skivington (capt), T Wood, A Saull, P Dowson.

Ireland A: G Duffy; F Carr, F McFadden, K Matthews, I Dowling; P Wallace, P Stringer; M Horan, R Best, T Buckley, M O'Driscoll (capt), D Toner, S Jennings, S O'Brien, J Muldoon.

England Saxons v Ireland 'A'

live tomorrow sky sports 2 (ko 2.0)


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