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Kidney: axing Leo tough call

Leinster captain Leo Cullen can consider himself the most unfortunate of those to lose out in what coach Declan Kidney called the "slim margins" that divide the joy of selection and sorrow of non-selection.

It was the most contentious issue ahead of the promotion of Jonathan Sexton and Geordan Murphy for the side to play England at Twickenham on Saturday.

Was it a tough decision? "That would be an under-statement. In this case, Donncha is lucky enough. It is a tough call on Leo," Kidney admitted.

"I am not going to talk up one player at the expense of another. These decisions are made on slim margins. I just feel Donncha is the right fit for this one (in London)."

For all that, Cullen could be forgiven for wondering what he has to do to retain the one jersey that has, mostly, remained just out of reach of the Blues' leader.

Leinster out-half Sexton knows he has to take full advantage of finding favour or he will be sitting where Ronan O'Gara will be on Saturday -- on the bench -- for the Welsh match.

"We are blessed with two great out-halfs, one with huge experience, another up-and-coming. I thought it was opportune to give him (Jonathan) his go this time," said Kidney.

Despite the even-handed approach of Kidney, the scene is set for Sexton to carry his form through the Six Nations, starting with a return to the stadium where his close-range drop goal killed off London Irish in the Heineken Cup group stage last month.

It was assumed the main bones of contention were at half-back and the back three. In this regard, Sexton edged out O'Gara for his superior physicality and Leicester Tigers' Geordan Murphy returns to full-back for his experience in a decision that causes minimal disruption.

Thirty-six-year-old tighthead prop John Hayes will become the first Irishman to reach 100 caps for the national side.

It will be a proud moment for the Cappamore farmer, sure to be reflected in his emotion-filled face during the national anthems at the weekend.

"When I got the first one (cap), I wanted to get the second. But, I never thought I would get this far," he said, obviously uncomfortable in his milestone surroundings.

Tony Buckley's versatility to make a fist of both sides of the scrum gives him the advantage over the fit-again Marcus Horan and an unlucky Tom Court in what is a clear dedication to developing squad depth.

Meanwhile, Martin Johnson has chosen an unchanged England side from the one which laboured badly to a 17-12 win over Italy in Rome.

This means the backrow of Lewis Moody, James Haskell and Nick Easter will be launched off the tail of scrum and lineout to scatter the Irish defence.

Sniping scrum-half Danny Care, fly-half Jonny Wilkinson and centre Riki Flutey will be at the controls in terms of playmaking. They will have to ignite a backline loaded with pace and power, if not finesse, further out.

IRELAND: G Murphy; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll (capt), G D'Arcy, K Earls; J Sexton, T O'Leary; C Healy, R Best, J Hayes, D O'Callaghan, P O'Connell, S Ferris, D Wallace, J Heaslip.

ENGLAND: D Armitage; M Cueto, M Tait, R Flutey, U Monye; J Wilkinson, D Care; D Cole, D Hartley, T Payne, S Borthwick (capt), S Shaw, J Haskell, L Moody, N Easter.


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