Saturday 24 March 2018

Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy could resume centre partnership for Ireland

Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Gordon D'Arcy, Ireland
Brian O'Driscoll, left, and Gordon D'Arcy, Ireland
Brian O'Driscoll, right, and Gordon D'Arcy

Duncan Bech

Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy look set to resume their centre partnership when Ireland name their team for Sunday's clash with New Zealand on Friday.

The decision to release Ulster's Luke Marshall and Darren Cave for RaboDirect PRO12 action points to D'Arcy starting in the number 12 jersey alongside O'Driscoll.

O'Driscoll is on course to shake off a calf niggle in time for the climax to the Guinness Series in his final appearance against New Zealand before retiring at the end of the season.

Jonathan Sexton has been struggling with a hamstring injury incurred in the 32-15 victory over Australia and has until late this morning to prove his fitness.

Should he fail to recover, Paddy Jackson is favourite to start after directing the autumn-opening 40-9 win against Samoa.

Full-back Rob Kearney resumed training on Tuesday and is expected to win his battle with a rib problem.

New Zealand are chasing the end of a perfect season by posting a 14th successive victory to become the first Test side to finish a calendar year with an immaculate record

Spearheading Sunday's assault on Dublin will be number eight Kieran Read, favourite for the International Rugby Board player of the year award.

Read has been the sport's outstanding player in any position this year and Ireland number eight Jamie Heaslip regards him as exceptional.

"We were talking to Australia last weekend at the dinner and they said 'just mark Kieran Read'. That is how much of an influence he can have," Heaslip said.

"In my book, I would put him and Sergio Parisse as the best eights out there and Kieran is showing some incredible form right now.

"Kieran's pretty much the full package. He's got great distribution and carrying skills. He's a serious athlete.

"He has been playing some fantastic rugby over the last year and

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