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Horan and Best set for Six Nations audition with 'A' test

Declan Kidney has reiterated the importance of being able to put out a second-string international side as the countdown to the first game of Ireland's Grand Slam defence begins in earnest.

As Ireland continue to fret about a lengthy injury-list ahead of their Croker opener against Italy next Saturday, tomorrow's 'A' match against their English counterparts in Bath assumes much more significance than normal.

That's especially true for Rory Best and Marcus Horan, who a few short months ago were facing the prospect of season-ending injuries -- or career-threatening in Horan's case. Both return to the international fray earlier than expected.

"The 'A' games in our set-up are hugely important," declared Ireland coach Kidney. "You don't fast-track fellahs back from injuries like that; you have to bring them back at their own pace.

"If you fast-track them in, they will break down later on. We're fortunate we have a good game on Sunday to play in. Hopefully that will be beneficial later in the Six Nations."

Elsewhere, Kidney is forced into selecting players who are out of favour in their provinces and need game time -- such as Fergus McFadden and Peter Stringer -- ahead of form players like, say, Darren Cave or Isaac Boss.


Stringer and Boss look to be in a head-to-head battle for a bench berth against Italy, unless Kidney has undergone a sea-change in opinion about Eoin Reddan; similarly, Shane Jennings, unpromisingly starting at blindside tomorrow, may feel his joust with Leinster colleague Sean O'Brien could decide a squad selection in the absence of Denis Leamy.

England include their Thomond Park flop Shane Geraghty -- whose Mayo-born father Joe walked out of the room in disgust when the Northampton out-half declared for the Red Rose ahead of Ireland.

"It would be a big win for us if we could pull it off and give the senior side a boost in confidence going into the Six Nations," said Geraghty junior, who has been dropped from England's elite squad after a mis-firing autumn campaign.

Ireland's squad is littered with superior experience, a factor which often holds sway.

Verdict: Ireland.

Ireland 'A' -- G Duffy (Connacht); F Carr (Connacht), F McFadden (Leinster), K Matthews (Connacht), I Dowling (Munster); P Wallace (Ulster), P Stringer (Munster); M Horan (Munster), R Best (Ulster), T Buckley (Munster); M O'Driscoll (Munster, captain), D Toner (Leinster); S Jennings (Leinster), S O'Brien (Leinster), J Muldoon (Connacht). Reps: J Fogarty (Leinster), M Ross (Leinster), R Caldwell (Ulster), N Ronan (Munster), I Boss (Ulster), I Humphreys (Ulster), D Cave (Ulster).

ENGLAND SAXONS -- A Goode (Saracens); D Strettle (Harlequins, D Waldouck (Wasps), B Barritt, N Cato (both Saracens); S Geraghty (Northampton), B Youngs (Leicester); N Wood (Gloucester), D Paice (London Irish), P Doran-Jones; D Attwood (both Gloucester), G Skivington (Wasps, capt); T Wood (Worcester), A Saull (Saracens), P Dowson (Northampton). Reps: T Mercey (Saracens), R Webber (Wasps), G Parling (Leicester), L Narraway (Gloucester), M Young (Newcastle), J Clarke (Northampton), M Benjamin (Worcester).

England Saxons v Ireland 'A', Live, tomorrow, Sky Sports 2, 2.0

Irish Independent