Friday 15 December 2017

Schmidt puts trust in Heaslip

O'Connell and O'Driscoll overlooked as Leinster No 8 holds onto captaincy

Jamie Heaslip will remain as Irish captain
Jamie Heaslip will remain as Irish captain
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

JAMIE HEASLIP will remain as Ireland captain for the November series when Joe Schmidt unveils his team to face Samoa this lunchtime.

The Leinster No 8 was handed the captaincy by Declan Kidney last season and, despite speculation that Paul O'Connell or Brian O'Driscoll were set to replace him, he will continue in the role.

With less than two years to go until the World Cup, Schmidt has opted to retain the 57-times-capped back-row, who will be 31 when the tournament takes place in England.

Schmidt has waited until the latest possible moment to appoint his skipper and has stated that he sees the leadership as a group responsibility.

O'Connell was seen by many as the front-runner, but the calf injury he suffered two weeks ago has counted against him and highlighted an injury record that has kept him out of the Ireland jersey since March 2012.

Heaslip endured a difficult first season as captain, winning just two out of seven matches as the Kidney era came to a disappointing end.

However, he finished last season in commanding form for Leinster and started two of the Lions' three Tests against Australia last summer. Matt O'Connor has used him as skipper in Leo Cullen's absence so far this campaign and he has responded with a series of stellar displays.

The captain is expected to lead from an imposing back-row against the Samoans, alongside Peter O'Mahony and Sean O'Brien.

Doubts remain over Johnny Sexton's hip injury and the Racing Metro fly-half is unlikely to be risked, with Paddy Jackson set to start.

O'Connell, however, could be included from the start alongside Mike McCarthy in the second-row if he can prove he has shaken off the injury that has limited his involvement in training. Devin Toner is on stand-by in case the Munster legend is kept on ice for the clashes with Australia and New Zealand.

Elsewhere, Fergus McFadden is the favourite to get the nod ahead of Dave Kearney for the left wing berth, while Gordon D'Arcy should hold on to the No 12 shirt alongside O'Driscoll.

Schmidt will name his team at 12.30 today, with the Samoans naming their line-up later in the afternoon.

Possible team – R Kearney; T Bowe, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; P Jackson, C Murray; C Healy, R Best, M Ross; M McCarthy, P O'Connell; P O'Mahony, S O'Brien, J Heaslip (capt).

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