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Madigan stays one step ahead of in-form Jackson

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt has given opportunity to just two uncapped players, centre Colm O'Shea and prop Tadhg Furlong (pictured), against The Barbarians in an uncapped international at Thomond Park tonight (KO 7.45).

There is the serious prospect of World Cup involvement for Furlong, depending on how many front row forwards Schmidt settles on and how he deals with the next three months.

The 22 year-old Wexford native is still a baby in terms of the front row, especially at tight-head.

He is running a strong third behind Mike Ross and Martin Moore at Leinster in his breakout season, playing 26 times, seven as a starter and five as a replacement in The Champions Cup.

This is his first taste of Ireland game time to show Schmidt he has taken the necessary steps to thrive in this environment.

O'Shea has been impeded by a host of injury setbacks and is known to have earned the admiration of Brian O'Driscoll in the limited time they worked together.

Obviously, Schmidt sees the same virtues in the 24 year-old, whose only 80 minutes of the season came on his fifth cap, in the last round of the PRO12 against Edinburgh.

The decision to go with Ian Madigan in front of Paddy Jackson could be significant given the fine form of the Ulsterman.

There is a sense of 'if not now, when?' as Jackson began to exert real authority in Ulster's unsuccessful bid to make the PRO12 final.

Jamie Heaslip will resume the captaincy in the absence of Paul O'Connell and left wing Craig Gilroy is rewarded for his form. Leinster Academy prospect Cian Kelleher could come off the bench.

Schmidt took time out to stress how the IRFU played no hand, act, or part in the dismissal of Matt O'Connor as Leister head coach.

"It's not the IRFU's decision. It's purely a Leinster game board decision. That's the autonomy they have," said Schmidt.

The eagle-eyed New Zealander will be "an interested observer" in the identity of O'Connor's successor.

"I will be working with that person and that person will obviously have a number of Irish international players," he said.

That is a minor side issue in the larger scheme of things.

The road to the World Cup begins here.

Ireland: R Kearney; D Kearney, C O'Shea, L Marshall, C Gilroy; I Madigan, E Reddan; J McGrath, R Strauss, T Furlong, D Toner, D Tuohy R Diack, C Henry, J Heaslip (capt).

The Barbarians: Z Kirchner; A Cuthbert, J Rokocoko, W Olivier, D Smith; J Gopperth, R Pienaar; R Tejerizo, D Fourie, A Jones, R Capo Ortega, K Mikautadze, S Jennings (capt), G Vosloo, R Holani.

Verdict: Ireland