Kidney 'thrilled' with blend of experience and youth in exciting backline
DECLAN Kidney today compared the experience of Ireland's backline for Saturday's RBS 6 Nations opener against Wales in Cardiff to a lottery ticket.
The selection of exciting wings Craig Gilroy and Simon Zebo, who number four Test appearances between them, contrasts with the near-200 caps shared by centres Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy.
O'Driscoll is one of a quartet of changes to the side that routed Argentina 46-24 in the climax to a mixed November, with Rob Kearney, Rory Best and Sean O'Brien also returning after missing the autumn through injury.
"The younger guys were buzzing around the camp in November and that has carried on into this month," Kidney said.
"A couple of the more senior players are starting to feel their age with the younger fellas around them.
"Look at the back line and the numbers - it's like the lotto. You've got one, 120, 71 and three in terms of the number of caps. There's a mix of experience."
O'Brien's return to the back row - once the former European player of the year had recovered from hip surgery - was inevitable with the biggest question mark hanging over who he would replace.
Ulster openside Chris Henry was superb during the autumn, but it is blindside Peter O'Mahony - who today signed a new contract with the Irish Rugby Football Union lasting until 2015 - that will line-up against the Welsh.
"It was bit of a call. In terms of a mix as a starting back row, we felt Peter, Jamie (Heaslip) and Sean would be good for us. Chris' performances did make it a topic of conversation," Kidney said.
For the first time since succeeding Keith Wood as captain in 2004, O'Driscoll is relieved of the leadership duties following Kidney's decision to appoint number eight Heaslip skipper.
Inevitably the spotlight fell on Jonathan Sexton's rejection of a new offer from the IRFU in favour of joining a French club, thought to be Racing Metro, in a lucrative move for the Leinster fly-half.
Kearney yesterday suggested that Sexton could be the first of several Ireland players to depart for the Top 14, but Kidney side-stepped the issue and denied the 27-year-old had been become distracted by the scrutiny over his decision.
"This is a business. Everyone said it would take 20 years for professionalism to settle in and we're about 15 years into that now," Kidney said.
"This was going to happen at some stage. Jonny's grand, as cranky as ever....so he's fine!"
It has been reported that Sexton was disappointed not to have been offered parity with Heaslip, but Ireland's new captain denied the issue had affected their relationship.
When asked if there was any tension between himself and Sexton, Heaslip replied: "No, not in the slightest.
"It (France) has always been there, it's not like it's a new ball park. I doubt Jonny's thinking about being a guinea pig for anyone else.
"There hasn't been much chat except a bit of banter and trying to speak French to him.
"Jonny had to weigh up the offers and chose the option he chose. As a club mate at Leinster and friend it's disappointing to lose him. We're going to miss him.
"It will be an amazing adventure for him and I'm sure he's looking forward to it.
"He's the ultimate professional. He came in on Sunday night and was good to go.....as cranky as ever. The business is done and he's onto the next challenge."
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