O'Connell and O'Driscoll to line out together for first time in two years
PAUL O'CONNELL looks set to begin his reign as Ireland captain against Australia as Joe Schmidt prepares to roll out his big guns to face the Wallabies.
The Munster second-row returned to the green jersey for the first time since March 2012 as a replacement in last weekend's win over Samoa, but is expected to be named from the start when the New Zealander unveils his team today.
Jonathan Sexton is ready to return to the team after missing last week's game with a hip flexor injury, while Sean O'Brien and Cian Healy are also in line to come back after their impacts off the bench last weekend.
It means Ireland are in a position to field their strongest side for some time, with 2011 the last time the new captain and Brian O'Driscoll lined out together for their country.
Mike McCarthy looks likely to retain his place in the second-row alongside O'Connell, while Luke Marshall is also believed to be pushing to come in for Gordon D'Arcy alongside O'Driscoll in the centre.
Tommy Bowe has overcome his calf injury and should be able to retain his place on the right wing.
Ian Madigan's versatility and impact off the bench last weekend could be enough to see him keep his place among the replacements.
Former Ireland international Conor O'Shea believes that the clash against Australia represents a "real opportunity to win".
"What Australia don't have coming into this game is unbelievable confidence," he told the Irish Independent. "What Ireland need to do is make sure this is a very competitive game and, when the crunch comes, how much does this Australia team believe they can win the game."
Ireland name their team at 1.30 this afternoon; the Wallabies will confirm their line-up at 11.0.
Possible Ireland team – R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, L Marshall, F McFadden; J Sexton, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, P O'Connell (capt); P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip.